More about calling for help

Not too many decades ago the strategy for getting help in the bush was to have a minimum party size of four so that if one was injured two could walk out to raise the alarm while the remaining person stayed to look after the patient. Times have changed and we are now spoiled for choice. Should we set off a PLB or call 000? (Obviously 000 is an option only in locations where there is mobile phone service.)

There has been discussion in the club recently about which of these two methods is best, meaning which is preferred by the emergency services. So we asked the police Search and Rescue people. The short answer: it doesn’t matter much.

A PLB transmits your precise location, and updates that about every 20 minutes in the unlikely event that you keep moving. A PLB also acts as a beacon for the helicopter to home in on directly. (There’s a clue in the name – Personal Locator BEACON. Early PLB’s did not transmit location, they were just a sort of radio-frequency lighthouse that could be “seen” by the right type of radio receiver.)

On the other hand a phone call has the advantage that you can describe the situation. That can help the emergency services form a rescue plan and get medical advice if needed.

There is probably nothing wrong with using both methods, or two phone calls from different locations as was done recently when an incident occurred at a spot with no phone signal so two members of the party went in different directions hoping to pick up a phone signal somewhere and both were successful.

One other aspect to this is the way you communicate your location. The previous post here was about what3words. That may be particularly helpful if you make a phone call where the signal is weak so the sound quality breaks up. But if the audio quality is good (so that numbers are not mis-heard) then the police have a slight preference for latitude/longitude coordinates because they are directly useful to the helicopter pilot.

If you have trouble remembering all this it doesn’t matter because the method you use doesn’t matter. But for those who worry about the details I hope this is helpful.

There is a third option that not many people have and which I don’t know enough about to discuss sensibly, but I should at least mention: There are satellite communication services such as SPOT, Garmin inReach and perhaps others. These allow you to send text messages but involve a moderately expensive device and a significant subscription fee so are mostly for people doing more high-risk activities than typical Pandani bushwalks.

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