Ever wondered how search crews find you in backcountry?
North Shore Rescue passing over B.C.'s Cypress Provincial Park to search for a missing hiker. (Michael Danks/Instagram)
VANCOUVER -- Finding a lost hiker in the remote areas of B.C.’s North Shore mountains can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, so North Shore Rescue is explaining how they do it.
In a post on Facebook, the group says they have received a number of inquiries about how teams get location information from a missing person’s cellphone.
“If you are lost in the backcountry and have cell reception, your first action should, of course, be to call 911 so you can let authorities know you are lost and in need of rescue,” the post says.
When calls are made to 911, connection is made with any cell tower in range, regardless of service provider. This means calls may still go through even if the phone is unable to get reception.
The group says there are ways to see GPS coordinates on smartphones.
“On iPhones, for example, the GPS coordinates are displayed at the top of the built in compass app if location services are turned on.”
This information can be relayed to 911 operators, but authorities and search crews also have the technology to find your coordinates themselves.
“We use technologies that are created by developers who are intimately familiar with the realities of backcountry SAR,” the group says. “They allow SAR personnel to instantly get your GPS information from your phone by the simple exchange of text messages and the click of a link - no app, download, or other action is required on your part.”
The post says text messages are a more reliable way to communicate and get location data because calls can easily drop out.
However in mountainous terrain, it’s near impossible to get pinpoint accuracy with GPS coordinates. The system used by NSR also maps an estimate of the coordinates' error radius, to give search crews an area to work in.
The group adds one final note about the use of location apps and other systems from private companies. For example, there is a location program called What Three Words which has created a grid map of the world. However, the program requires users to download an app.
“We do not see a place for them in the B.C. search and rescue community and do not advocate their use,” the post says.