Overreliance on cell phones creating emergency situations in Grand County backcountry
Every outdoors person knows the essentials for any adventure include basics like food, water and sunscreen, but more people are counting their cell phones as a key tool for their trips.
While cell phones offer many features that are useful for outdoor adventures, like a compass, a camera, a GPS and communication abilities, emergency services officials are reminding hikers, bikers and campers not to rely too heavily on these devices, especially in the backcountry and national parks.
“The primary concern is that cell phones don’t work everywhere,” said Greg Foley, field director for Grand County Search and Rescue. “You have to be near a cell phone tower in order to make any kind of communication happen. (…) If your cell phone can’t hit the tower then you need an alternative plan.”
Foley gave the example of a recent call from someone who had to climb from the valley they had been in to a ridgeline to get service and call for help.
However, Foley still highly recommends people bring their phones with them because if there is service it can be used to call or text 911, as well as help emergency services pinpoint the location. It’s also important to call emergency numbers before family members or friends.
He said the most effective way to use a cell phone in the backcountry is to fully charge it before heading out and then keep it off or in airplane mode or low-power mode so that way the battery is still full in an emergency situation.
“It’s pretty common that by the time they get around to calling for help they don’t have very much battery left,” Foley said. “If you can make the call, most of the time we get a coordinate off it and we know where you are.”
Of course there are ways for emergency responders and Search and Rescue to find a lost or missing person without the help of a phone, but it takes time and can put people in more dangerous situations if they don’t have the proper gear, Foley said.
A recent state analysis of the emergency services in Grand County recommended they collaborate with Rocky Mountain National Park to develop a public information campaign because of the amount of people relying on cell phones without proper preparation.
Foley said most of the trails in Grand County do not have signs warning hikers and bikers about lack of service, but that Search and Rescue tries to put information on their website and social media pages, as well as informing members of the public they encounter.
In general, he advises people to pack the proper gear, noting the 10 essentials touted by the Boy Scouts of America, and, if possible, a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger, which will work when cell phones don’t have service.
Also, Foley said to “go oldschool” and inform someone of the plan for any trips, including location and timeframes.
“Tell somebody dependable where you’re going and when you’re going to return, so that if you don’t return they can make that call and they will know what your trip plan is,” he said.
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