SMS and Search and Rescue

Well it finally happend, and frankly I’m suprised that it toook this long.
A pair of subjects we looked for all of last night and part of today initiated the search by sending an SMS (Text) message. I’m sure this has happened many times to other teams but this is the first for ours.

According to my briefing, the text said that they were “stuck” between Widgeon Lake and Pitt Lake. Not the best set of directions because that’s a pretty big area. However, what the text did NOT say is that they were injured, cold, hungry or scared and that was a very. good. thing. The family no doubt knew where the subjects went, since they had a canoe, their car was at Grant Narrows and this is the access to Widgeon Slough, which is the access to Widgeon Creek, and Lake. We surmised from this that they were somewhere near the trail from the Slough to the Lake.

It turned out to be an easy search, also because of the wherewithal of the subjects. They stopped and camped rather than going on in the dark, getting more lost and perhaps injured. They chose an open area easily visible from the sky. They even lit a fire and put pine branches onto it when the helicopter approached so the smoke would attract attention.

My final point is this: cell reception is very bad in this area, but the SMS got through. in the past I’ve had conversations and read quite a bit about the pros and cons of text over voice for rescue purposes and at this point I have to come down on the side of text for the following reasons:

  1. mobiles will continue to attempt to send SMS messages if they don’t send the first time<
  2. text messages and can transcribed and forwarded, transmiting the message exactly and providing a verifiable transcript
  3. texting forces you to be terse and send only the stuff that matters
  4. texting allows the recipient to reply to a mesage that will also be delivered when the mobile comes back into range.

Perhaps 911 should accept text messages for these reasons?

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One comment on “SMS and Search and Rescue
  1. Tom Zajac says:

    Good points, Perhaps Adventuresmart and SAR teams should come up with some helpful tips on how to text for help. Who to message, and what to include. (like maybe say where you are and what your status is) They could also suggest when it may be appropriate, such as your poor coverage example. Why fight your way through your last bar of battery with multiple dropped calls when a SMS might get the message through clearly? Perhaps send it to more than one friend to. Just in case your go-to guy lost his phone at the bar the night before.

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