Monday, December 28, 2009

Use Your Brain

It's tempting, in this day of high-tech gadgets, to switch off our brains and let the electronics do our thinking for us. An example — this past weekend, a Nevada couple followed the onboard GPS in their SUV as it lead them into trouble. They were traveling across the desert of eastern Oregon, letting the GPS direct their route, and they ended up getting stranded in deep snow on a remote forest service road.

Make no mistake about it, I am an advocate of GPS and other technology that can (I said CAN) make life easier and safer. But it is unwise to mindlessly follow a digital voice as it tells us where to go. The GPS has no idea of conditions on the ground — in this case that a huge winter storm had dropped 18 inches of snow that would block the route it was telling the couple to take.

GPS has no way of knowing if a rockslide has closed a highway, or if there is flooding, or a tornado, or a forest fire, or a chemical spill from a wrecked 18-wheeler. That little device, as awesome as it is, can only do so much. The rest is left up to us to figure out.

That's why we need to maintain (oh-oh, here they come, my favorite two words) situational awareness. That means:
  • keeping our eyes and ears open to what's happening around us 
  • listening to weather reports
  • calling ahead to get the latest info about route closures
  • watching the sky
  • watching for deteriorating road conditions
  • and then using common sense in our decision making
As it turned out, this couple finally made it home after an unexpected 3-day delay with their vehicle stuck in the snow. After 2-1/2 days, the couple was able to make a connection with their cell phone, and a deputy sheriff found the couple and used a winch to pull their 4-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia out of the snow. According to the deputy, the couple was well-equipped for winter travel, carrying water, food and warm clothes.

During winter travel, equipment to add to the list includes a shovel, chains, a winch, and devices that can call for help (such as a personal locator beacon or SPOT Satellite Messenger).

No matter how much equipment you carry, there is no substitute for using your brain to make decisions about whether or not to proceed down a snow-covered forest road in the middle of nowhere. Don't let some digital voice coming from a little black box lead you into trouble.

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