With the rise in reliable two way "telephones" (ie satellite phones), we have seen a big change in when people make "distress calls", and the quality of support that is raised.
Compared with a "red button" (ie epirb, spot, etc), that you just push once things have gone really pear shape and then you hope that someone will understand magically the nature of your distress and send appropriate support. Instead we see that with a "telephone" there is very low inhibition to pick it up and talk to someone... We get about 1-3 of our customers a year get off their yachts in the middle of an ocean, but curiously they are all rather boring events and I would struggle to make the whole event sound too exciting in a writeup... (I'm talking events such as loosing keels, terminal capsize, fires, severe illness, etc..) They generally evolve something like a quick call to shore early on when things are just "unusual", experts such as Falmouth get involved and keep an eye on things, sometimes these events turn serious but at that point people are already on alert and in almost all cases there are known positions, status and help is received extremely quickly (typically sub 1 hour)
A few days ago we heard a presentation from a disaster alert coordinator, ie one of these companies that is paid to receive your alert from your Spot or whatever. He was talking about an increasing number of bleeps they were receiving in 2010 from Haiti in the Caribbean - at first they were quite confused as to why so many alerts were being received and what the problem could be. Finally someone with a *telephone* called in and explained that a large earthquake had just hit... At that point he proudly explained that they now understood what all the bleeps were about and could coordinate appropriate response....
...My take on the situation is that the "buttons" were all basically useless in that situation and until the guy with the *phone* called in, they were basically blind and had little ability to coordinate and prioritise. Even after he called in they have no way of knowing which people need urgent assistance (trapped in a building) and which were simply scared (less urgent perhaps).
I have the same critique of EPIRBS. For sure they are an inexpensive, independent extra safety measure and everyone should strongly consider carrying one. But spot and other emergency "buttons" are really just low reliability "EPIRBS" and fundamentally have the issues that:
a) They are always activated far too late...
b) The alert goes to the "wrong person", ie you can't directly call the most appropriate response person, you get a coordination center
c) Most of these devices have no or little way to indicate the type of problem or level of urgency (I'm dying/I need water within 48 hours/I have lost my mast, can survive 20+ days)
OK, that came over as a bit of a rant... What I mean to say is that these are all great devices for their obvious purposes, but I really think they perform far less well in *emergencies* and a telephone performs far better, than most people realise. Telephones really are excellent in emergency situations - don't overlook just how much better they work out..