Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life as a Consumer

Yuppie 911 is a darkly amusing side effect of our lives as a consumer.

The Grand Canyon's Royal Arch loop, the National Park Service warns, "has a million ways to get into serious trouble" for those lacking skill and good judgment. One evening the fathers-and-sons team activated their beacon when they ran out of water.

Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help.

That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode.

When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water.

The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for "creating a hazardous condition" for the rescue teams.

Just goes to show, that as emergency services become accessible it needs to have consequences just like 911. Prank calls to 911 can result in arrest and fines, therefore it would make sense to apply those same rules and punishments to calls to rescue services. As a benevolent dictator, I would first outlaw the beacons. The emergency service provider cannot speak with the signaler, so there is no way of knowing what the emergency is or how critical the situation is, thus they are inherently dangerous and expensive tools. Then once the service is set up via sat-phones or regular cellular phones let calls for rescues because of "salty water" be faced with fines and repayments of the cost of rescue personnel and equipment.

Basically, these signaling devices have removed the fear that you can get into trouble in the wilderness, so that people take risks that they might not take if they did not have the safety device. It is what an economist might call a moral hazard. Another interesting take is called the Tullock effect.

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