Cyclists working with Harlingen officials on emergency alert system

dfwnewsa | April 1, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

Cyclists working with Harlingen officials on emergency alert system

HARLINGEN — Across miles of winding trails, hundreds of bikers and hikers are trekking deep into the Arroyo Colorado’s remote brushlands.

About 20 years after city officials opened the first stretch of the Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail, a local mountain biking group began carving out about 10 miles of dirt tracks drawing hundreds of racers.

Now, the Valley Off-Road Bicycling Association is working with city officials to launch an internationally acclaimed emergency alert system, which member Tom Kimbriel helped develop while serving with the U.S. Border Patrol.

“It’s critical,” David Hernandez, the San Benito-based group’s founder and president, said.

Everyday, the city’s trail systems draw 50 to 100 hikers and bikers, he said.

“Fortunately, there haven’t been any severe injuries,” he said.

International emergency alert system

In 2017, Kimbriel was working with the Border Patrol’s missing migrant program when he helped develop its emergency alert system becoming used internationally.

“Since then, it’s spread all the way to the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “There have been thousands of rescues, so we know it works.”

Working South Texas’ remote brushlands, he found the standard 911 emergency system often failed to accurately pinpoint victims’ locations.

“I noticed that the EMS services were sent to the wrong location because the telephone system is not accurate in rural areas,” Kimbriel, an adjunct instructor with Texas Southmost College’s Criminal Justice Institute, said during an interview. “The problem that we have at the arroyo is going to be that the topography, or the shape of it, is going to cause the same problem. So what we’re going to have is a person will dial 911 on their cell phone and the system will not get an accurate location for it.”

How it works

So Kimbriel and members of the cycling group are working with city officials to strategically post 40 signs across about 10 miles of trails along the Arroyo Colorado.

“As far as we know, it’s the only mountain bike trail to have this system,” he said.

As part of the emergency alert system, each sign will feature serial numbers corresponding with its physical location along the trails.

“Each sign is an individual address on the 911 system,” Kimbriel said.

In case of an injury along the arroyo, hikers and bikers could use their cell phones to call Cameron County’s 911 system.

In turn, dispatchers would align the signs’ codes to GPS coordinates, which first responders would use to locate injured callers.

As part of Kimbriel’s system, dispatchers would also review computerized instructions alerting first responders to the types of rescue equipment they would need to access the victims’ locations.

“The system will include GPS coordinates and first responder instructions such as the place to park, the staging area and necessary equipment,” he said.

Before launching the system, Kimbriel’s recommending first responders train in simulated rescues in the area.

“We want to get the first responders out there. We want to get EMS out there. We want to get the fire department out there and actually train going to each one of this system’s locations we’re going to identify,” he said. “I believe at some point someone will have a problem with heat or heart conditions and this will help them survive.”

Officials haven’t set a timetable for the system’s implementation, he said.

Remote rescue

Hernandez knows the risks of biking in remote areas.

In 2021, he was riding along a remote gravel trail at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge when he suffered heat exhaustion.

So he dialed 911.

“I spent a good 90 minutes out there before they could find me,” Hernandez, an Apple executive, said.

It took a game warden to track him down, he said.

Carving out arroyo trail system

With the growing number of bikers riding the Arroyo Colorado’s trail systems, Kimbriel proposed city officials launch the emergency alert system.

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda told him during a city commission meeting last month. “It looks like you’re passionate about this.”

In 2000, city officials opened the first stretch of the Arroyo Colorado Hike and Bike Trail, whose paved ribbon now winds about five miles from McKelvey to Dixieland parks.

Then in 2017, Henry Roberts, the late founder of Bicycle World, launched a project to build the city’s mountain bike trails along the Arroyo Colorado.

“You’re totally shut off,” Hernandez said, describing the trails running below part of the city. “It’s an escape for a lot of people to get out of the normal.”

Now, the mountain trail system winds about 10 miles along the arroyo’s high embankments.

“This trail is unique,” Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, said. “There’s so much change in elevation.”

For about five years, members of the cycling group have been carving out the trails, featuring three-foot jumps along with a 30-foot downhill drop, with elevations rising as high as 40 feet, Hernandez said.

“The trail is not flat by any means,” he said. “They run up and down and along the inside of the embankment of the arroyo. It’s kind of like a rolling terrain.”

Mountain bike destination

Now, the cycling group, boasting about 70 members, is working with city officials to make Harlingen a bicycling destination.

Today, the mountain bike trail system’s drawing racers from across Texas and parts of Mexico.

“It’s already a draw for Northern Mexico and the entire Valley,” Kimbriel said. “I run into people there trying it out from as far as Austin, Houston, Corpus. They’re all coming down just to try this section we have already.”

Last year, the cycling group hosted the Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association’s state championship race, drawing about 200 racers from Texas and parts of Mexico, Hernandez said.

This year, the big race is set for Oct. 13-15, Kimbriel said.

“The word is getting out,” Hernandez said. “They find the trails more challenging.”

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