Types of devices
Until I had used one myself I had always been a bit dubious about how useful tracking gadgets were. After all, even if you knew where your colleagues were last seen or heard from, what practical use was it to you half way around the world looking at a screen. So, here’s what I found out about them.
Tracking devices in isolation are not the silver bullet that some think they are. To be useful travellers first need to get some professional advice as to what’s right for them and use them in conjunction with other platforms. So, what kind of devices do people go for?
Pearl Pocket Buddy
One of the most commonly used personal trackers is the Pearl Pocket Buddy. Mercifully it is very easy to set up for an individual traveller, and has an astonishing number of features for such a small device. With current GPS wizardry inside it’s sleek lightweight shell it can lay a bread crumb trail refreshed every minute and is accurate down to 5 metres.
It can Geo fence your route so if you have approved routes or indeed out of bounds areas, your monitoring station will be alerted if your colleagues stray in to one of these areas. If your team are unfamiliar with their surroundings, their driver didn’t listen to the brief or if something more sinister happens the Ops room will know. The alert can be followed up with a phone call or message which will enable the response team to escalate their actions until you’re located.
Pocket Buddy has an internal motion sensor, triggered if you fall over suddenly or stop abruptly (in an RTC or an ambush) in which case a message will be sent to the Ops Room. A covert one button alert so you can activate it without any tell-tale beeps. In some cases, it might be more sensible/useful to alert someone locally rather than in London on New York, so Pocket Buddy has 4 reprogrammable phone numbers so you can choose who you alert. Unlike a bulky phone or GPS, you can secrete it about your person if abducted or subject to a brief or long detention.
Should the worst happen and you press for help, the response team will be immediately furnished with your name, number, date, time and Lat/Long co-ordinates. All of which is vital information that they can utilise to start the search. You can just imagine how difficult it would be without this head start.
In Reach SE
Holding it in the palm of your hand the InReach SE feels a lot like a cross between a classic handheld GPS and a mobile phone, but with the addition of a stubby antenna on the top. Like the smaller Pocket Buddy, it has a 4-day battery life but also comes with all the cool functionality of a phone and GPS. Users can send and receive 160-character messages and even access Twitter (a must for Donald Trump when he’s travelling).
It has that all important one button alert that will immediately send your coordinates along with the time and date and your name to your responder. But you’ll also be able to take the call that will follow an activation just in case you’ve pressed it in your pocket by mistake and want to stand down the response.
I have heard of very expensive call outs where ski-mountaineers (safely back at their desks in the city) who have had their beacons accidentally activated in their homes by luggage being moved around and a knock on the door of their homes in the small hours with a puzzled responder who was none too pleased and a follow up bill. Which probably made the eyes water.
If you’d prefer to just take your smart phone and don’t want a daysack full of additional handsets and chargers, you could add to its capability by turning it into a satellite phone. The Iridium Go is a sturdy no nonsense device which is ruggedized to a military specification and water resistant to Ingress Protection (IP65). Simply flip open the antenna, pop it on the dashboard, balcony, rock or roof, turn it on and wherever you are (providing it can see the sky and you’re not at the bottom of a well) it will connect to Iridium’s network of 66 Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites, allowing you to connect all your devices to the outside world as if you were sitting at your desk.
Iridium 9575 Extreme
Or you could just go for a good old-fashioned satellite phone, like the 9575 Extreme which is in fact not in the least bit old fashioned. Weighing only 247g it is fully programmable to your spec and can be transformed with an extra device into a Wi-Fi hotspot as long as you’re within sight of the aforementioned LEO satellites. The 9575 with its breadcrumb trail tracker and emergency button, is the all singing all dancing data, SMS and voice solution for a traveller that’s not on too tight a budget.
Tracking devices such as the ones we’ve looked at are essential tools if your teams are going to areas where they need to stay connected, but only if your staff are trained in their use. If the devices are looked after, if they are accompanied by a fully supported web based travel safety system, a set of realistic protocols and procedures which are adhered to by the staff on the ground and of course supported by the stay behind team. And all of this requires work, effort, planning and money.
Sometimes the greatest learning can come from a disaster, just make sure you learn from someone else’s and it isn’t them learning from yours.