Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us

by Dave Robinson

Dave Robinson

Originally published July 07, 2014

I shamelessly admit to being completely fascinated by gadgets. Of course you realize one man’s gadget is another man’s necessity! But new technology in the area of survival, navigation and the general outdoors always gets my attention. Global Positioning System technology has been around in one form or another since 1973, but has only been in the past 15 years it has been available to civilians.

GPS technology works something like this: There are 31 satellites circling the globe right this minute, sending signals to planet Earth. GPS receivers interpret the signals of at least four satellites and, using triangulation, calculate location, speed, altitude and direction for us. Depending on how well we can manage our GPS receivers we can find our way to grandma’s house, the nearest Taco Bell, or any address we program into it.

A couple of summers ago we took our grandkids to San Francisco. Not knowing my way around the city, I took along my GPS. It helped us drive right to our hotel, the attractions we wanted to visit and even happily guided us to the most direct route out of town and back to Oregon. There was never a mis-step.

As with any technology, however, there is alway a weakness. I have found if I program it with my home address, the unit I have will guide me right past my driveway and I’ll wind up about a mile away. On another occasion if I had followed its explicit directions, I’d have turned left, directly into a river. A recent news article in the Portland area, reported a motorist was following his GPS and found himself stuck on an impassable logging road. (He was driving a front-wheel drive, sub-compact car. Hmm.)

The article went on to say, “ Search and rescue crews were able to reach him after a few hours.” They also mentioned it was an important reminder why drivers should always bring a good map and have plenty of supplies in their vehicles - especially if heading into the backcountry. This bit of wisdom was followed up with a suggestion to always tell someone your destination and route of travel. Pilots do the same by filing a flight plan.

There are several online accounts of GPS errors. One woman’s unit instructed her to drive 900 miles to her destination, when it should have read 90 miles. It took her over two days to realize she had a problem! Another (a man this time) was travelling from New York to Pennsylvania. His unit directed him to drive north when it should have taken him on a southerly route. He actually crossed over into Canada and ran into trouble with the authorities because he wasn’t supposed to be in the U.S. anyway! In some cases, common sense isn’t all that common!

Now that I have you confused, let me try to clarify. Programming errors by the manufacturer, user errors, atmospheric conditions, forest canopy, tall buildings and all manner of techno-gremlins can affect the accuracy of your GPS. Common sense has to prevail. If you’re out in the woods relying on the GPS to get you back to your rig, verify the readings with a compass every now and then.

Even with those issues, I continue to rely on my GPS. Along with a good dose of wisdom. I’ve spoken with many who own a unit, but admit they don’t know how to use it. First read the book, then practice with it until you are comfortable with its operation. Your confidence level will grow and before long you will know when to follow and when to ignore that left turn into the river!

As always, send your questions, comments and GPS stories to me at disasterprep.dave@gmail.com.

Note: Dave Robinson is Bandon's Postmaster and has worked for the postal service for 30 years. He has a background in law enforcement, served in the Air Force in Vietnam, worked nine years for the Coos County Sheriff's Department, and serves on the Myrtle Point School Board, where he lives.

additional columns by Dave Robinson