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Mount Rainier National Park could increase cell phone coverage in park

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Sep. 24, 2012 at 11:35 am with No Comments »
September 24, 2012 11:56 am
Rainier emerging from the clouds as seen from Shriner Peak.

Can you hear me now?

The odds aren’t very good if you are trying to make a cell phone call at Mount Rainier National Park. There are places where you can make calls: the summit (sometimes), Sunrise (almost always) and standing next to the stop sign at Paradise (depending on your carrier).

However, there is no cell phone reception in one of the most popular areas of the park, the 10-mile corridor from Longmire to Paradise. And even at Paradise reception is sketchy at best.

This might soon change as park officials look for ways to make Rainier a little safer.

Rainier superintendent Randy King told The News Tribune recently that the park will look at improving cell phone reception, especially in high traffic areas like Longmire.

A report released last week by the National Park Service board of review examining the New Year’s Day shooting death of law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson recommended the park update standard operating procedures related to communication during crisis.

King told The News Tribune that several responding agencies, including the FBI, had trouble communicating in the park during the Anderson shooting because of the lack of cell phone reception. Park officials communicate by radio.

“They (law enforcement agencies) really depend on the cell phones for a lot of what they do anymore and when you get there … (reception) is pretty hard to come by,” King said.

A separate NPS board of review is examining the backcountry deaths of five people above Paradise between December and January.

“One of the things we are looking at is would cell phone coverage have a made a difference?” King said. “Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s cause to re-evaluate that need because that’s how people communicate.”

In the past, the park has launched search and rescue operations, mostly on the upper mountain, after being notified via cell phone. Sometimes even when park visitors can’t get a signal from their coverage provider, they are still able to call 911.

King says the mountainous environment would make comprehensive cell coverage quite challenging at Rainier. “But I think you could at least (provide coverage) within those high activity, high visitation corridors.”


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