Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reaching Out for Search and Rescue

I listened to John Kruse’s fine outdoor radio program this morning.  One of the guests was the Sheriff from Grant County in Oregon.  His interview centered on Search and Rescue (SAR) in a small rural county.  To listen to the interview go here

I would like to add to the Sheriff’s recommendations about what the hiker should do about proper preparation before heading into the backcountry.   Carrying the ten essential systems is important; no doubt about it.

I have added an essential item to my list – communications. Consider how you are going to communicate to SAR.  Getting SAR activated is not magic but it does take time to get the volunteers alerted and moving to the subject.

My first recommendation is to take a look at your cell phone.  If you are holding out on getting a new phone reconsider; now.  New cell phones have what is called the E-911 chip that activates when 911 is dialed.  This activation sends the hiker’s position coordinates to the 911 dispatch center based on the phones GPS system; the accuracy is reasonable.   The E-911 chip has helped to eliminate the hours of searching and allows SAR volunteers to go straight to the subject.   Older phones and some carriers my not have this capability.  Check with the cell service provider and take another look if you use those cheap phones (e.g., Tracfone) sold at the box stores.  Remember, this requires the cell phone to have connectivity with a cell tower.

Emergency dispatch call centers may have the option to ping your phone.  This is essentially triangulating the hiker’s position using a combination of the cell phones signal and the cell towers.  Multiple towers are best.  Critical to accurate locating ability is the number of towers in the hiker’s area.  For example, Oregon’s Mount Hood has a lot of cell towers in the county adjacent to the mountain and surrounding forests.  Multiple towers with the latest modifications provide accurate locating data.  On the other hand, the ski resort at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon has only one tower thus the position data is always suspect for those hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail west of that particular mountain.

Another option is to carry one of the locating beacons such as the SPOT by Global
Telecommunications.  A SPOT beacon retails for around $100 and requires an annual subscription service that costs about $100.  This technology is evolving quickly, is satellite based and has been critical to finding lost and injured hikers every year.  Take the time to search this carefully so that it matches your requirements.  Visit to find product reviews and sources.

While electronics are wonderful consider carrying a signal mirror and a quality whistle.  Though relatively inexpensive these two components are key to finding lost hikers each year.

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