GPS tracking systems can be used by DofE groups as an additional safety tool. However great care must be taken to ensure that they do not compromise either the number of supervising adults or the team’s feeling of isolation and self-reliance.
There must be no reduction in the framework or quality of the emergency training and competence of the team, nor any compromise of the Supervisor’s emergency planning/procedures. The expedition team, Supervisor and Assessor should agree in advance the policy of use during their expedition.
A GPS tracking device can be placed in a participant’s rucksack which can then transmit location information to a GPS receiver and then on to a (usually encrypted) secure server. This data can then be transmitted securely to a computer via an internet connection or a hand held device. Supervisors, Assessors, Leaders, Licensed Organisations and emergency contacts can then monitor the team’s location and progress.
Using tracking systems can be an effective way of supporting team safety. Most systems have a panic button or some (editable) emergency phone numbers that can allow the group to call for help in the event of an emergency.
The tracking systems provide an accurate indication of a team’s location, reducing the time taken to find them.
Tracking can help Supervisors and Assessors with effective remote supervision. Knowing where
expedition teams are, or are not, can help save time and money for Supervisors and Assessors.
Working out where and when they are likely to meet their teams can reduce the amount of driving and environmental impact of expeditions and prevent waiting long periods at checkpoints. Such systems can also involve other people in the Licensed Organisation, allowing them to keep up to date with their team’s progress.
DofE expeditions are an opportunity for participants to be independent; so allowing parents to be able to monitor progress can undermine this, and delays or travelling off route may potentially worry parents unnecessarily. Therefore it is not recommended that parents have access to GPS tracking systems.
Care must be taken to work out how Supervisors and Assessors will have access to the tracking information while supporting expeditions and to ensure all involved are trained in using the tracking device and the accompanying software. Tracking systems that use the mobile phone networks should not be used as reception is too unreliable.
Within a DofE context, tracking should be used with some caution. Whilst it can enhance remote supervision, giving teams more space and less adult contact, a tracking system does not tell Supervisors how the group is feeling or how individuals are coping.
Tracking systems must not allow a false sense of security to set in with the Supervisors responsible for the young people.
Tracking systems must not be used to reduce the number of Supervisors supporting DofE expeditions. Ratios of Supervisors to young people are based on the needs of emergency situations and not day to day monitoring of the team(s) progress.
For participants, knowing they have a tracking device can undermine the spirit of isolation and self-reliance felt by their DofE team and themselves.
For example, getting lost and sorting it out for themselves is part of many DofE expeditions and knowing that they are being monitored may reduce the feeling of having to get themselves back on route.
Tracking systems are not there to stop teams making mistakes, but are there to help if a situation deteriorates or if help is needed. Supervisors must ensure, through training, that GPS tracking devices have no more impact on this feeling than groups with mobile
phones in their rucksacks in case of an emergency.
While the DofE allows DofE groups to use tracking systems to support the safety of their expedition teams, it is not a requirement, nor is it a substitute for the required emergency training and competent supervision.
(extract from the DofE Expedition Guide, available from DofE Essentials through eDofE.)