Here at 3S Group, we have been providing tracking solutions to individuals and organisations since 2010 and in 2012 we became the sole recommended partner to the DofE Award Scheme, and continue this relationship to this day.  We are trusted by hundreds of Educational Organisations, The Maritime Coastguard Agency, Border Force, Police Forces, MOD and Mountain & Lowland Rescue to name a few of the eminent organisations we supply.

We are often asked about tracking solutions and are always happy to pass on our experiences, whether from our own use in the search and rescue work we do, our work with DofE, international group tracking, or even tracking for TV programmes.  Certain elements of our work cannot be disclosed because of our work with the Emergency Services, though they are filled with lessons learnt.  Quite simply, we don’t just sell tracking solutions, we use them to provide situational awareness, ‘top cover’, or safety cover and provide a source of information for new entrants or established users to the tracking market.

In the outdoors world, good training and skills, used with the right tools and proper planning are the foundation for expedition and outdoor safety.  But what happens when it all goes wrong?  There is a common misconception that tracking assists navigation and is not part of safety protocols.  Well, that’s where experience plays a part; as an example, a group of highly experienced mountaineers and rescue personnel, were in a remote area and one member of the party slipped and badly fractured a femur.  No phone signal, so no call for help, a 3-hour walk to safety and a life-threatening injury that needed urgent medical attention.  Fortunately, they had one of our satellite trackers and immediately pressed the SOS button.  When we received the call from the 24-7-365 emergency monitoring control room, we did not need to look at a map and carry-out any checks, since we knew this group well, being led by a friend and highly experienced mountaineer.  Launch the helicopter!  30 minutes later the group was lifted off the hill and a life was saved.  So, that day, a tracking device provided the ultimate in safety cover.

Each year we experience incidents where tracking has provided the safety cover that has been instrumental in saving lives, where no amount of training or experience alone would have prevented a fatality.  Trackers are another tool, that just might make a difference.  But they are not an excuse not to get the right training and experience as a pre-requisite.

So, in the world of Expeditions, what are the lessons learnt?

  1. Good training and further gained experience is essential.  Incremental learning and experience aids safety.
  2. Tracking assists in remote supervision since you know the location of groups, who may or may not go through pre-planned check points.  This was described by a Leader using tracking for the first time – ‘Always I knew where they were when(if) they went through checkpoints, but I had no idea of where they went between checkpoints, but now I do, and it’s a bit scary!’
  3. You also know how fast they are traveling and in which direction and whether on or off route, which is valuable information.
  4. Knowing the locations of groups provides information of when and where you might need to intervene or assist.
  5. Trackers give absolutely no advantage to groups in navigation; trackers are just a small flashing unit, so are not navigation aids.
  6. Single or one-way (simplex) trackers mostly allow preplanned messages to be sent, but not necessarily the exact nature of the assistance required.  Help can be provided, but the ‘why’ is not known.
  7. Dual or two-way (duplex) trackers allow two-way communication and provide an interface to understand the urgency of the assistance required.  This allows the nature of an emergency to be known and assessed; a bruise, a bang, a broken finger, a broken leg, a head-injury, or an adder bite.

Choosing the right tools to manage expeditions and risk is fundamental to safety.  That may include use of trackers, but it should start with what a tracker does, what information you get and how to use that information.  Nowadays, we find most new Clients have some knowledge of tracking, but need to understand more details and we can fill that knowledge gap.

Matt Barrett, Partnerships Manager at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, stated ‘Tracking is becoming more widely used in DofE Expeditions.  Understanding what tracking delivers is essential to Leaders.  This is where the expertise and pedigree of 3SGroup comes into play; no other company has the skills, experience, client-base and recommendation, so that is why they are our recommended partner.’ 

Like most tools, they must be carefully selected, and you must train to use them.  And make sure you test them before they are used in anger, or they become worthless.  So, training and experience in the technology and use of trackers is important for DofE leaders.  Again, that is where we can advise, or if needed, train you to use them and interpret data.

Each year, there are a number of incidents that require emergency intervention.  With trackers, it’s not due to groups being lost, as lost groups should be trained to navigate effectively, though being ‘temporarily lost’ can happen to the best of us, so the emergency is usually some form of minor medical emergency.  If trackers are used, its less about search as this unknown element has been removed, more about rescue and recovery, meaning faster response times under emergency situations.  Occasionally, it’s more serious and helicopters have been used to speed the recovery and treatment.

To sum up!

  • Do they replace good training and good leadership; definitely not.
  • Do they help DofE Leaders; definitely.
  • Are they a safety device; definitely.
  • Have they saved lives; definitely.

We tell our Clients that the choice of using tracking is theirs; we can tell you what they are, and what they are not and the pitfalls of not using the correct systems.  We use them in the real world, so give us a call, if you want to know more.

And the next big event we are supplying and monitoring is from Peking to Paris 2024, so not quite an extravagant DofE Expedition, but a rally, where tracking will provide essential safety information and cover around the globe.