Friday, April 22, 2011

Charge Me

It is inevitable that whenever there is a high profile rescue from an outdoor environment, the Internet comments start discussing whether those rescued should pay for the rescue.

When a group of boy scouts were rescued from Los Padres National Forest, the comments immediately highlighted several facts. 1) There was a storm on the horizon and they went out anyway. 2) They got into trouble basically due to their own negligence. 3) They should pay.

This refrain comes up time and time again but do we expect people to pay for their mistakes? We all nod our heads and say "of course HE should pay" when the infamous Grand Canyon hikers pressed their rescue GPS buttons three times, mobilized the air calvary, asked for water but refused rescue.

What about the experienced hikers like Aaron Ralston who know what they are doing but something goes wrong. Or even if you are not as experienced as Aaron, you have a good head on your shoulders but events take a bad turn despite your best efforts? Should you pay only due to circumstances and not poor planning?

What do the experts have to say about it? Mountain Rescue is based out of California but is the national voice of SRA's. They are on the front lines of the outdoor rescue effort. What say thou?

According to the MRA position paper

they are against charging for rescues. The MRA reasoning basically states that the fear of calling for help because of cost creates bad incentives causing worse situations for the rescue-es and additionally, puts rescuers at further risk the longer hikers wait to call for help.

I am of two minds about all of this. On the one hand, if you take unreasonable, stupid risks almost upon reliance of the safety net provided by SAR's, then I think you should bear some of the burden for mobilizing those forces to help you. On the other hand, if I am alone in the backcountry and the water is rising,

 I don't want to spend 30 minutes doing a cost benefit analysis about whether I should push the button and incur costs or maybe wait it out. 

Perhaps the answer is to not charge. A bright line rule. With the caveat that if the situation is due to a totally reckless disregard of conventional outdoor safety or an egregious use of technology like in the Grand Canyon case, the rescue-es should at least bear some of the burden of rescue.

What say you fellow blog readers?


  1. The trouble if you decide the charge because of negligence is deciding where the line is. Common sense tells us the Grand Canyon hikers are over the line, but what about the many examples of folks right on the line? The ones that are not high profile and don't make the news.

  2. I have no idea Chris, I am not sure where you draw the line if you decide to charge. Certainly MRA thinks you shouldn't and I agree with them. On the other hand, those GC hikers should be charged all the jet fuel that was burned on those flights. However, how to determine that line for people less egregious than GC hikers is a tough one. If you agree with charging, how would you decide?


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