Safety Canard

Visitor safety is sometimes offered as a reason for extending cell coverage into national parks.   This rationale does not stand up to serious examination.

We have been able to find no evidence that cell coverage increases visitor safety. For example, Yellowstone admits that the “vast majority” of its current 911 calls are misdials. Anecdotal reports further suggest that that the vast majority of the non-misdials are not true emergencies.

True emergencies, such as goring by a bison, are more likely occur in the park backcountry. The logic of the so-called safety argument would justify covering every square inch of even the remotest wilderness in order to extend the illusion of an electronic safety blanket. 

Yet Yellowstone repeatedly says it only wants to wire the developed areas where there people and response resources already available. 

In addition, parks such as Yellowstone are quite concerned that further cell coverage along roadways creates distracted driver problems, leading to far greater public safety concerns than connectivity. 

Others have also observed that cell coverage gives some the illusion of safety, facilitating ill-prepared visitors to take imprudent risks.

Despite flirting with a safety rationale, Yellowstone rejected the concept of 911-only cell towers out-of-hand as infeasible and refused to even examine it as an alternative in developing its Wireless Plan. 

Many large nature-based national parks such as Grand Teton and Glacier have little or no cell coverage but no one calls these national parks unsafe because they have not let telecom companies erect cell towers.

The current debate now revolves around upgrading current cell coverage from 3G to 4G (which allows streaming video and music capacity).  4G has nothing to do with public safety.

Thus, it is not surprising that parks invoke a safety rationale for cell coverage on an inconsistent and shifting basis, making it difficult for anyone to pin down and critically analyze whether it makes sense.