You can spend hundreds of hours training and preparing yourself for disaster or emergency. You can have a good plan and route and backups for both. But then there’s the time when Murphy’s Law kicks in and things start going south.
From there, your best option may be to hunker down and call in the cavalry. That’s when it pays to have the right gear and skills to make sure rescuers are able to find you and get you out.
Below, we’ll go over the various methods to alert emergency responders to your situation and location.
Today’s technology provides a variety of ways to directly communicate with responders. Each option has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Remember, each device relies on precious electricity. Also, it pays to know where you are and be able to provide a reference point or coordinates for quicker rescue.
1. Cell Phone – Many people own a cell phone of some kind and a fully charged device can be an easy way to call 911 in case of an emergency. Some models allow batteries to be replaced for long term use and a variety of solar chargers are available for others. The biggest con to this is that service is limited and sometimes not available in the backcountry and can be out altogether in a disaster.
2. Satellite Phone – These allow a more reliable way to get in touch while travelling in remote areas. The main disadvantage to these is that the devices and service plans can be quite expensive.
3. Radio – Two-way radios can allow users to directly communicate with teams and bring them to a designated location. Although readily available to the public, they do require a bit more training to effectively use than cell phones. Most radios allow users to switch batteries with spares during long periods of use.
4. Personal Locator Beacon – These tools are essentially a distress signal. When activated, they send a signal to the beacon’s company via GPS, who will then communicate with the appropriate agencies for search and rescue. The main con is that many do not allow the user to communicate directly with an operator to specify the situation. Remember, the more a rescuer knows about where you are and what’s going on, the faster and safer they can extract you.
5. Whistle – Many outdoor packs come with a whistle built into the sternum strap. If yours does not, make sure you have one close at hand. Three bursts of a whistle is the universal call for distress.
6. Shouting – Simply yelling will be enough if you hear a rescue team hailing for you. Keep your noise up, especially if you can hear a team walking towards you.
7. Lights – Flashlights and headlamps can be very useful in the dark. Flashing three times towards a team will alert them to your position and also conserve your batteries. Some lights and headlamps also have a built in strobe feature that can run for several hours. This can be especially useful for signaling rescue aircraft. We use the feature in my SAR unit for marking pick points for helicopters.
8. Flares – Flares are an effective method of signaling and are commonly used at sea. Handheld flares can be waved to attract attention while others can be shot in the air to signal over tree lines or other cover. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings. The last thing you want to do is start a fire in the spot you want to get out of.
9. Signal Fire – One of the oldest ways of signaling. You can build it as high as you like depending on fuel and have the added benefit of warmth and cooking ability. Keep in mind that you want to keep absolute control over your burn. Do not start a signal fire if you are in a dry, wooded environment or when there are high winds.