There's been a hubbub the past couple of days over a New Hampshire law that requires people who get lost to pay for their rescue. Last April, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout went hiking on Mount Washington and got lost. Helicopters and search parties combed the mountain for three days before finally discovering the boy. Now, citing the law, the state is billing him $25,000.
An online survey reveals that 25% of respondents think the state should reduce the amount and an additional 49% are in favor of it being dropped altogether. A second poll has 57% of respondents against the law's existence.
In the news yesterday was a story about a woman who has disappeared from a cruise ship sailing back from Alaska. Though all her belongings remain in her stateroom, the woman was nowhere to be found on the ship. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian authorities are searching some 200-plus miles of waterways and coastline.
Was she a victim or foul play? Did she somehow manage to fall overboard (which is not easy to do)? Or did she just "miss the boat" and is safe and sound in a small Alaskan town? At this point, we don't know the answer to that.
What we do know, however, is that two countries are spending a large amount of money on manpower and fuel to search for her. Presuming she is found, should she be sent the bill? Based on the survey cited above, most people would say no.
How about people who ignore evacuation warnings in the face of floods, hurricanes, or forest fires and later have to be rescued? We've all seen the "dramatic footage" of a daring rescue by firefighters or helicopter crews or the National Guard. It's safe to say there would be a public outcry if these people were invoiced for services rendered.
So who should pay for this? Unfortunately, if you took a poll, the majority response is likely to be "the government." And where would the government get the money to pay for such things? That would be the same place it gets all its money... from taxes. I'm pretty sure you'd have a hard time finding anyone who would say they would like their taxes raised in order to pay for search-and-rescue missions of responsible people who make foolish decisions.
From what I've read, New Hampshire may be the only state that has such a law on its books. And depending on how much of a public outcry there is, they might decide to change it. In which case, the cost of future searches and rescues will come out of the funds that might otherwise be used to repair a road, pay for medical supplies in a clinic, or feed needy children a school lunch.
Just like they do in the rest of the country.