Emergency Preparedness

In our culture now a days, we say something bad is going to happen, it happens. We jinxed ourselves. It seems that it’s the mind set that we put ourselves into that gets us into trouble. Before going on any trip into the backcountry it is important to, at minimum, think about “what could happen when I am hiking/biking/climbing and so on?” In search and rescue it happens all the time, a hiker that is not prepared gets lost and is stuck in the wilderness for a few days. Just recently there was a search and rescue for a person out in El Malpais National Monument who got off the trail and could not find their way back to the trail. With the person they had a light sweater, light day pack, lighter, snacks and some water. During this time of year in El Malpais the temperature at night is low 30’s high 20’s, and in the day 60’s 70’s. To stay warm at night the person had to walk to keep warm, and eventually resorted to get into their backpack to keep warm. While the search and rescue was active, there were three aircraft flying over the area. The person said that the aircraft flew over them about ten times, and the aircraft did not see them. That was due to the person wear a grey sweater which is not very visible from the air. The last thing is that this person called 911 saying that they were lost and needed help. After talking on the phone for long enough the phone disappeared off of the network. All of the search and rescue personnel assumed that the phone had died. Until an Air Force Search and Rescue Operator at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center realized that the phone was a pay-by-the-minutes phone. So he pulled out his credit card and put twenty dollars worth of minutes on the phone. You know what? It popped up on the network. The person was eventually found safe. All of this is a long winded way to say that you NEED to be prepared for you know what hitting the fan. When I go out into the wilderness I make sure that I have enough clothes and snacks to spend the night if I need to, unlike the person that got lost. It could just be an extra jacket or two. One thing that weighs nothing, and can make the difference of life and death is a signal mirror. It is a small mirror that is about an inch and a half by two inches. It’s used to reflect the sun in the direction of an aircraft to signal them. I have used a signal mirrors to signal planes and listening over the radio “oh where are you?”, and twenty seconds later “Oh I see you!”, is amazing. Now actually letting someone know that you are lost is sometimes easier said then done. A cell phone is great and all, until you get out of cell service. That is when I recommend a device called a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). These things WORK! I have done training missions with them and the PLB told us right where the subject was. The initial unit cost can be a bit pricey but with no subscription fees, it is worth throwing one in your backpack before you head down the trail. If you have a little of all of the things that I mentioned you could be rescued within a few hours instead of spending days out, or make your time out more comfortable. These item can make the difference between life and death. Happy trails


Evan Custer