Equipped To Survive Foundation, Inc. Equipped To Survive Foundation
2007 Year End Recap
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Please support Equipped To Survive with a tax-deductible donationTo Friends and Supporters of the Equipped To Survive Foundation,

This past year had a few personal potholes, but was once again productive, with some significant accomplishments to record, and at year's end, some important projects underway. This is how your generous contributions have helped make a difference:

I have continued my particpation in RTCM (Radio Technical Committee for Maritime) Special Committee 110 meetings at the RTCM office in Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., and at the annual RTCM conference held in St. Pete Beach, Florida. The latter was held in conjunction with NOAA's annual Beacon Manufacturer's Workshop, in which I also participated.

The RTCM SC110 committee continued its work to revise their standards that are the basis for U.S. regulations of PLBs, and a de facto world standard. The committee did not complete work on the new standard as I had hoped, but it appears we are very close to doing so. A decision has been made to release the standard without the new integral GPS tests since that has turned out to be a very difficult test scheme to finalize, in large part due to difficulty that NASA and others have had in completing their GPS simulator testing required to validate our proposed tests. Rather than hold up all the progress made to date, it's better to get the new standard out and add an appendix for GPS testing at a later date. The new standard includes more rigorous tests and the requirements are more clearly delineated.

RTCM logoThe new labeling requirements that I drafted and which have now been finalized should ensure that adequate and effective instructions for use are provided on new beacons, included testing for comprehension. The best beacon in the world will do no good if the user, who may well not have read an instruction manual or even be the owner of the beacon, cannot turn it on or set it up for optimal effectiveness. The new packaging labeling requirements should also ensure that purchasers will know exactly what capabilities they are getting in their PLB.

I anticipate that the revised RTCM standards will result in some additional changes to the COSPAS-SARSAT standards next year. All these changes work to the benefit of the survivor who is depending upon these beacons to save their life, improving the likelihood that they will work in real world conditions.

COSPAS-SARSAT has also adopted a new provision, based on a paper submitted by RTCM and authored in large part by me, which will now allow for the transmission of the GPS location in a unique GPS self-test for all 406 MHz beacons. This has the potential for solving some continuing problems, especially for aircraft operators and the military.

In related action, COSPAS-SARSAT has set up an Expert Working Group that will meet this coming Spring to consider how the current digital messages might be reworked to provide a more accurate location and other useful data. Yours truly hopes to participate in this meeting to help encourage further advances, finances permitting.

As our work on the PLB standard draws to a close, the next project for SC 100 is to update the EPIRB standard to reflect the advances we've incorporated into the PLB standard. It's an ongoing process to ensure that end users have the best distress signaling devices available that will really work in an emergency.

RTCM has also been tasked by the U.S. Coast Guard to provide feedback, and likely, to eventually develop a standard for new handheld marine VHF radios with simplified GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) distress alerting and automatic receiving capabilities and built-in GPS. The Coast Guard wants to eventually require all marine VHF handhelds to have this capability. The concern is to ensure these are still affordable—otherwise nobody will buy them—and that they will really work to improve safety. Because of all the expertise that SC 110 has developed in the area of included-GPS and testing, many of us on that committee are now working on this new project that has been assigned to the SC 101 committee. The SC 110 and SC 101 meetings are being held on consecutive days, so it isn't as big a burden as it might otherwise be.

SAEI also continue to participate on the SAE S-9 Cabin Safety Provisions Committee and SAE S-9A Safety Equipment and Survival Systems Sub-committee developing enhanced safety and survival standards for transport category aircraft, airlines and general aviation. The new Aviation Life Vest standard is in process of being voted upon and only relatively minor issues remains to be worked out. We have now also entered the initial phase of voting on a significantly improved standard for Aviation Life Rafts and all the knives have come out. The majority of airline members and aircraft manufacturers are opposing these changes that they view as only an expense, ignoring the safety concerns. They also have little consideration for general aviation, but the new TSO that will result from this new standard applies equally to a 777 or a single engine Cirrus. The next year or two will be critical in the fight to get these new standards passed and will determine whether the past five years' effort to extensively rewrite this standard was in vain.

The improvements in the standard are based on the life raft tests and research performed by myself and ETS Foundation over the past decade that revealed serious deficiencies in many aviation life rafts. I remain the sole consumer advocate, the only person representing you, who participates on any of these standards committees, which typically involve only industry and government representatives. It is rare for anyone to speak up for the end user whose safety and life is at stake. Attending these meetings and working on these standards takes time and money. I am dependent upon contributions from supporters like you to enable me to continue these efforts. As you can see, your investment is producing excellent returns and I beg you to continue to support ETS Foundation with a significant financial contribution so that I can continue this work. You can make a donation here.

SPOT Satellite MessengerWe have continued to add additional product reviews and new product information to the ETS site, as well as revising and updating old reviews and articles. A number of new reviews are currently in the works. Our reports on new gear at both Outdoor Retailer and SHOT Show continue to draw large numbers of viewers.

This year at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market a new distress beacon product made a huge splash, the SPOT Satellite Messenger. It utilizes GPS and the commercial Globalstar satellite network for distress alerting and includes additional useful features as well. It is much less expensive than a PLB to purchase, but has an annual subscription cost, unlike PLBs which don't. ETS was the first to offer a critical review of the new SPOT device, its pros and cons. Some of our criticisms have been addressed as the manufacturer has moved into production. We are currently testing a number of the production SPOT beacons to see just how effective they are in real world conditions. My full report will be published early next year.

TracmeAlso at Outdoor Retailer, another so-called distress beacon manufacturer attempted to make their own big splash. Tracme named their Family Radio Service homing beacon a "Personal Locator Beacon" in an apparent attempt to piggyback on all the good press that PLBs have gotten recently. I posted an article on my Equipped.org Blog and sent out a press release to all the outdoors, aviation and boating press making them aware of what we considered their deceptive naming of the beacon and the significant deficiencies of Tracme compared to a real PLB. As a result, numerous editors and writers contacted us to get the whole story and Tracme received a good deal less press than they aimed for. Some articles made note of the controversy and referenced ETS. We followed up with an in-depth test and evaluation of Tracme that revealed how poorly the Tracme worked in the real world. ETS also filed complaints with the FTC and the FCC. The FCC subsequently ruled that the Tracme homing beacon was improperly termed a PLB and that they could no longer refer to it as such. At this point Tracme tried to muzzle ETS and has closed down communications with us. They still seem inclined to go to court with the FCC over this, so this story continues. Truly a case of caveat emptor and I am pleased that ETS was able to make a difference.

Doug Ritter at USGC Air Station Elizabeth City
Doug Ritter at USGC Air Station Elizabeth City
In mid-December we received word that ETS Foundation has been selected to conduct a test and evaluation of PLBs for use by U.S. Coast Guard aircrew and rescue swimmers. This is recognition of the unique expertise developed during our two ground-breaking 406 MHz beacon evaluations and our reputation for independence. Planning is now in the works with testing scheduled for February of 2008. It is an honor to be able to provide a service for the brave men and women of the Coast Guard who risk their lives for others.

The Equipped.org Blog that we added last year has proven useful to allow me to quickly and easily present survival related news and commentary, as well as brief product reviews. It allows for a quick response to current events and has been picked up by most of the blogging sites, driving considerable traffic to Equipped To Survive. It is probably the most popular new addition to the ETS site in years.

We are adding a new feature, ETS Briefs, that will debut shortly. This will include brief reviews of products and gear by some of our more experienced contributors. This should allow us to add reviews of simpler gear in a quicker fashion than the full-blown reviews that take so much time and effort.

The ETS Survival Forum continues to experienced a good deal of traffic and membership continues to grow. Events like the recent fires in California drive traffic up as they occur and more people discover they have to become more self-sufficient. Volunteers Chris Cavanaugh and Marty Facazio continue their excellent performance as administrators of the forum, keeping peace when matters get too hot and helping newcomers.

Our annual April Fools Edition of ETS Survival News was once again a bit hit this year. yet again, I received hundreds of emails about it, many assuming it was all true. If you missed it or previous editions, you can find them all here on ETS.

This past year I provided survival education presentations at a number of aviation gatherings, from the EAA to Club Columbia (Columbia aircraft owners organization) to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). COPA has supported my attendance at their Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Programs to deliver the 3-hour survival module I developed to their members, plus a dinner talk on survival equipment to members and their spouses and friends in attendance. It has proven quite popular and I'll continue to present at the CPPPs through 2008. It allows me to get the message out to a group that has proven receptive.

I continue to provide free advice and information on survival equipment to troops embarking to the Middle East and to many life support personnel in the U.S. military.

This work is only possible because of generous support from the public, including many of you. Thanks again to all our contributors who recognize the value of the work we do and the tremendous value we provide for each dollar donated. Please give generously to help us continue our work. You can make a donation here.

Please support Equipped To Survive with a tax-deductible donation

Equipped To Survive Foundation's Form 990 and year end recaps from prior years can be found on the ETS Foundation Home page.

Respectfully submitted,

Doug Ritter
Executive Director
Equipped To Survive Foundation

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Executive Director: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
URL: http://www.equipped.org/etsfi_2007_recap.htm
First Published on: December 15, 2007
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