Who pays for rescue efforts when people are lost? Who should?

A few days ago, Kraig wrote about the three hikers lost on Mt. Hood. At the time of his post, one of the hikers had been found dead. The other two were still missing. Almost a week after they set out on their climb, they are still missing and most probably are dead. Because of this tragic situation, the question of who foots the bill for rescue efforts has come up once more.

Back in 2005, then Gadling blogger Erik Olsen wrestled with the question about who should pay–the lost hiker who hopefully is found–or tax payers? Olsen’s musings came about after a hiker hurt his ankle while hiking in Colorado. Several fire departments rescued the hiker after he spent a night on the mountain. The sticker price for the rescue was $5,000. In this case, the fire departments wanted the hiker to pay.

Usually, the people who are getting rescued don’t pay anything. But is that fair? Rescue attempts can be pricey. Consider this: From 1992 to 2007, the U.S. National Park Service spent $58 million on search and rescue efforts.

This recent Newsweek article echoes some of Erik’s points. As the article highlights, the hard economics question of who should pay for rescue attempts has as many facets to consider as it always has.

While one might say that people who take risks by heading up a mountain top or straying off a path should pay up once he or she is found, there are other factors to keep in mind.

  • One is a concern that people may avoid calling for help until it’s too late out of fear for what a rescue attempt might cost.
  • Some risks are unknown. A beautiful sunny day could go sour if the wind shifts, for example. Should people be punished when nature is at fault?
  • A large portion of rescue attempts are made by volunteers, therefore the cost is curtailed.
  • When fire departments and military units are part of rescue efforts, they often have hours to log towards rescues. A real live rescue helps them meet their quota.
  • Sometimes a rescue attempt may be launched even though the hiker is not in danger. A seasoned hiker may be holed up somewhere waiting for more favorable hiking conditions while a family member is frantic with worry.

With the knowledge that lost hikers are part of the outdoor scene, being financially proactive seems to be the best approach for handling costs before they occur. Colorado, for example, collects a small portion of the money from state recreational fees to put into a fund that is earmarked for search and rescue.

In Alaska, people who are mountain climbing up Mount McKinley pay $200 for the privilege.

Although planning for a tragic situation is never pleasant, it seems that in this case, planning ahead for the ” just in case” is sound. Otherwise, at the worst possible moment, people will be faced with the question, “How much is a life worth?

Ellis Island has a birthday on January 1

While I was getting the links for my post on things to do in New York City on New Year’s Day, I saw that Ellis Island is also open, plus that it’s having a birthday tomorrow. It first opened on January 1, 1892.

Friends of ours went to New York City earlier in December and did take the ferry to Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty lifts her torch and then on to Ellis Island, but they didn’t get off the boat in either place. They missed out on what I think is one of the more interesting museums I’ve been to–and I’ve been to A LOT of museums. Sure, it’s neat to see the Statue of Liberty from up close, but if you only have time for one place, get off at Ellis Island for at least an hour or so. Plus, the museum is free. You’ve already paid for the boat ride, so why not get your money’s worth?

Ellis Island does not have the flashiest of museums, but it is steeped in American and world history and, I think, is important to the multicultural fabric of the United States–one that is good to pay tribute to. If you have kids, it’s an excellent way to teach them about who has immigrated to the U.S., when the various ethnic groups came and the various things that were happening in the world that prompted them to relocate.

My two favorite displays are the 3-D graphs that show who came and when and the section that highlights various families and the belongings they bought with them. If you do go here, take time out for the movies and the talk by the National Park ranger.

The last time we were there, my son caused a double-take. When the ranger asked, “Who here was born in another country?” and my son, then age 4 raised his hand and shouted out, “I was. I was born in India,” the ranger looked at my son’s blond hair and fair skin in confusion. “For real?” he asked.

For real. My son’s immigration story is not quite as exciting as an ocean journey from Europe, but it will provide some party talk when he gets older.