In emergency situations, you should not hesitate to call for medical assistance. Most canyon areas have local rescue services and helicopter crews on standby. Local tourist and guide organizations will be able to give you details such as their phone numbers and emergency radio channels. Make sure to note them down and have your team members know them by heart. Do not rely on having them pinned down in your guidebook or map. If such local information is not available, at least make sure to know the country’s emergency telephone number.
Keeping People Informed
As outlined in our Hiking Preparations section, it is essential to notify people around you and even the proper authorities of your plans before you head out. Give them details about your plans and your estimated time of arrival (ETA) at each point along your route and your estimated time of return. If possible, contact the outside world at fixed intervals and inform them of your whereabouts. In that way, if you fail to report in or do not make your ETA, the people who stayed home will be able to call in emergency services with a good knowledge about your possible location.
How to Contact Rescue Services
Reaching the outside world is essential in an emergency situation. If you took the proper preparations, you will have brought a mobile phone or radio if no signal is available. Here are some methods on how to contact rescue services. You can use more than one method to increase the chances of being noticed:
Check with local authorities about the emergency channel. For Very High Frequency (VHF) radios, it will probably be channel 16. Should the signal be weak and communication is not clear, you should first try to signal in Morse Code and then find higher ground where reception is probably better. Do not waste battery of your radio and only try to find contact in intervals.
In case of a weak signal, dial the emergency number as this works at a higher signal intensity than normal calls. Try sending text messages as well. If you are unable to get any signal or reply, your next move would be to turn your mobile phone on and off in an SOS pattern. If you are lucky, this signal will be picked up.
Flares are a great way of drawing attention. If you have a very limited supply then make sure to use them only if a rescue vehicle is in the vicinity. Hand-held flares become hot and emit smoke and particles so make sure to keep them above your head.
Reflecting the sun’s rays with a mirror is a good way of drawing attention. If you do not have a mirror, try using any other shiny object like metal cases or glass bottle bottoms. To make your aim more precise, hold your mirror or shiny object in one hand and block the object (plane, boat, rescue vehicle) with your other hand and aim the mirror in a way that you can see the flash on your hand. Remove your hand and move the mirror in slow circular motions at your target.
You can use mirror signaling if the sun is shining during the daytime. A strong flash light will make a very recognizable signal at night. You can use your flash light to give the SOS signal. Six repeated flashes a minute with a minute interval is the internationally recognized Canyoning Distress Signal.
Burning fire arranged in a triangle shape is an internationally recognized distress signal. Fires and smoke are a good way of drawing attention. If fuel is short then light your fire only if you spot a rescue vehicle. Use wet leaves or plastic for maximum smoke production and light your fires at easily recognizable places like open clearings or elevations. Keep your fires under control to prevent Forest Fires and more trouble.
- Try to use natural and man-made objects to create a big recognizable pattern. Triangles, crosses, or SOS are the most common and recognizable patterns. Use logs, stones, or whatever is at your disposal to make these signs.
- When contacting medical assistance, make sure to have the following details at your disposal:
- The nature and cause of the incident causing the injuries
- The number of patients and the name, age, and medical condition of each patient in order of importance:
- Vital signs
Level of consciousness:
- A : Alert
- V : Responds to verbal stimuli (talking/shouting)
- P : Responds to pain stimuli (pinching, pin pricks)
- U : Unresponsive
- Description of injury
- The treatment already applied
- number of uninjured people
- medical expertise in the group
- water/food and medical supplies
- Location: try to give the location as precisely as possible:
- GPS or map coordinates
- Distance and direction from landmarks
- Description of landscape or possible special features
- Weather and terrain conditions/problems
- In case of a helicopter: possible landing zone
These are some of the ways on how to contact rescue services. If you are engaged in an Outdoor Activity like Hiking, it is very important to have knowledge on how to ask for assistance if the situation calls for it. Make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency situation before the hike.