Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FRS Radios: How Good Are They?

Well, in my opinion, not good enough to replace good group management skills. Yesterday, I wrote about the big group going into the backcountry. Turns out, the planned method of crowd control for this group (11 and possibly growing) is the use of family radio service (commonly known as FRS radios). The group is now split between snowshoers and skiers and each group, the plan goes, will be equipped with one FRS to communicate with the other group.

Readers of this blog with experience in the backcountry will immediately see the pitfalls of this approach. Apart from all the things that can go wrong with radios - batteries dying, the unit failing, the operator failing to remember how to operate the unit, the radio getting lost, the radio not having the reception you thought it would - you really cannot manage a group adequately over a radio.

A good trip leader needs to be able to assess how the weaker members of the trip are doing, while holding back the stronger members of the group. Neither of these things can be accomplished over a radio - you have to have one to one communication with people to make this assessment. Nor can you fix a broken binding or broken bone, extricate someone from a tree-well, or even find the other group using a radio. It's one thing to use a radio when skiing at a resort to arrange to meet your buddies for lunch in the lodge, it is quite another to rely on one in the backcountry, in confusing terrain, with a group of beginners and when your own skill level is low.
  Grouped Up No Radios

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