The Northwest Arctic Borough is looking to expand its spot tracker arsenal this year. The devices can be checked out for free at borough offices in each community.
Right now, the Northwest Arctic Borough has 88 of them. With around $10,000 of borough general funds, they’re hoping to purchase about 40 more.
Borough Public Safety Director Chris Hatch says they can be life-saving.
“We’ve had some successes this year where people were able to use the spot devices that we loan out to call for help when they’re in trouble. When that happens, we’re able to go directly to them. We have a location, we know where they’re at, and we know they need help.”
Hatch says it’s been a busy year for search and rescue in the borough, with 30 searches since January.
When people are carrying spot trackers, he says, search-and-rescue volunteers can be more efficient and don’t get burned out as quickly.
“Two or three searches out of one community in a couple of days’ time: It might mean you have six riders out at any one moment, in teams of two. They come back and immediately have to go out on another search. And we can wear our guys out. And when they get tired, when emergency service workers get tired, that’s when accidents happen.”
Travelers are also now more accident-prone, as warmer temperatures mean longer shoulder seasons, thinner ice …
“Snow covering, open leads. Hopefully, we’ll have enough cold weather, and quick enough in the fall, to not have a long period next year like we did this year.”
Even if it is colder next fall, Hatch says everyone should be using a spot tracker when traveling long-distances.
“If you’re going to go somewhere, stop by the search-and-rescue office, pick up a spot, sign it out, go on your trip, and when you come back, return it.”
Hatch hopes that will be easier with more trackers available by next fall.
Photo: Sea ice on Kotzebue Sound, April 2018 (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM)