This guide should help you prepare for back country excursions and with how to help rescuers help you.
In the back country, being prepared is of utmost importance… Be prepared for the unexpected! Even when you are near others, you may be out of reach from help for hours or even days. Many simple incidents become life or death situations because the person is ill prepared. Cell phones don’t always work, even the best outdoorsman can get turned around, an injury can make yards into miles and conditions can change without warning.
Sheriff’s Responsibility – By Colorado statute, the Sheriff is solely responsible for Search and Rescue within their county. The Sheriff is both fiscally and physically responsible for searches and rescues. Although there has been quite a bit of debate about paying for rescues, across Colorado people are not charged for rescues.
CORSAR – Colorado began the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search And Rescue fund in 1987 and it has become a national model of success and participation. After some changes over the years, the fund is now managed by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). The CORSAR fund is paid into by a small charge on hunting and fishing licenses, OHV, snowmobile and boat registrations, and by purchasing a hiking certificate. The funds can ONLY be used for two purposes. Reimbursement of sheriff costs for SAR incidents and Volunteer training and equipment. Priority is given for the cost of search and rescue for people who pay into the fund with a secondary priority for immediate family members of CORSAR participants. Things like flight time for search aircraft, food for horses and costs of broken equipment can be paid out of this fund. All remaining year end funds go towards equipment and training for the all volunteer SAR teams across the state.
Go Here to buy one
· The CORSAR fund IS NOT INSURANCE! It is reimbursement fund for for Sheriff search and rescue obligations
· The CORSAR fund will not pay for a medical ambulance (it may pay for actual flight time on helicopter though), ground transport, or hospital care.
· CORSAR also does not pay for daily costs of the County like a Sheriff’s time on scene or fuel for County vehicles.
Location – We can not stress enough how important it is to know where you are. When you need help, we have to be able to find you, and the tree next to you likely doesn’t have an address. Often, calls come in where people don't know what trail head, what trail or what forest they are in. Many tools can help you find your way but you must know how to use them.
· Maps and Compass – Simple, reliable and needs no batteries. ALWAYS CARRY A MAP AND COMPASS AND LEARN HOW TO USE THEM EVEN IF YOU HAVE A GPS. Get up to date USFS map and a shaded relief topographic of the area. Get the plastic waterproof version and make sure everyone in your group and your family at home have the same maps.
· GPS – These have become invaluable tools in the back country for everyone. They are complicated to use effectively and batteries can die. Learn how to use your handheld GPS before you leave home. Except for the satellites, handheld units works totally different than the navigation system in your car. Get a quality high sensitivity unit. Don't try and use your phone as a GPS in the woods unless you are desperate. You should know how to set a waypoint, input a waypoint, read your current location, elevation and heading, trackback, change datum, use the tracklog, and use with a map. If any of these look confusing, get your manual or find an expert.
· Not all GPS are equal! It depends on how you use them. Most rescuers use two forms of coordinates UTM and Degrees Minutes Seconds. UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) is like the military grid with 1000 meter squares which make it very easy to calculate distance and direction from one point to another in small areas. Degrees Minutes Seconds (in various forms) are easier for large distances and are used by everything from your cell phone to search aircraft.
o UTM coordinates are used with NAD 27 Datum and have a grid number (i.e. 13N) and two sets of numbers
o Degrees Minutes Seconds are used with WGS 84 Datum and may come in three formats.
o As long as you read the numbers correctly we can use any format, however we prefer that you use UTM with NAD27 or DDMMSS.s with WGS84. These are commonly found on most printed maps.
o Read coordinates as below. Don’t say “Thirty-seven”, say “Three, Seven”. The following are all the same point on a map:
§ DDMMSS.s – Degrees Minutes Seconds
· N37 14 12.2, W107 26 50.1
· read as “North 3 7 degrees, 1 4 minutes, 1 2 point 2 seconds by West 1 0 7 degrees, 2 6 minutes, 5 0 point 1 seconds West”
§ DDMM.mmm – Degrees Decimal Minutes
· N37 14.200, W107 26.833
· Read as “North 3 7 degrees, 1 4 point 2 0 0 minutes by West 1 0 7 degrees, 2 6 point 8 3 3 minutes”
§ DD.dddd – Decimal Degrees
· 37.236667, -107.448222
· Read as “3 7 point 2 3 6 6 6 7 by minus 1 0 7 point 4 4 8 2 2 2”
· 13N 282915 4123933
· Read as “1 3 “N”, 2 8 2 9 1 5 by 4 1 2 3 9 3 3”
· SPOT and other PLBs – Personal Locator Beacons and other GPS-enabled emergency devices have been helpful to let others know where you are and whether you are in trouble or in danger. ONLY trip the emergency beacon when you are in dire need of being extricated from the woods. Use the OK button if your unit has one to ease friends back home. Use the Help button to bring your friends to you in non-life threatening incidents (like packing out game or a kayak). Ask your dealer about adding insurance to the subscription, it may even help cover medical transport not covered by CORSAR. Remember that like a sat phone, the beacon needs a view of the sky to send it's signal out.
Communication from the woods – Knowing what works and when is a very big concern especially when you step away from civilization. You should know that your cell will drain its batteries in poor coverage areas as it continually attempts to connect to cell towers or operates in analog mode. Much of the Colorado Mountains have poor coverage if any at all. Many areas have zero coverage from cell, public safety radio repeaters or even sat phone. Turn off data, turn off GPS (unless in an emergency), close all unneeded apps, don’t continually open the phone or activate the screen – all these activities aid in draining your batteries.
Use these tips to help make the most of what communications are out there.
· Cell Phone – We count on cell phones every day and expect them to work. In the woods they probably won’t. Trees, moisture and terrain destroy cell signals. Often, the only way to get a signal is to go up. If you find a signal it may or may not be good enough to make a call out. Even when a signal is good enough to call out, it may not be good enough to receive an incoming call. In an emergency, when you find a place that works, keep it: Don’t move, don’t spin, don’t change hands. Keep the signal, it is your life line! If you are in an emergency, call 911. Operators can often identify your location, sometimes very accurately which will help us find you. Try texting if calling doesn’t work. Sometimes a text works when calling doesn’t. You can’t text 911 but you can go through a friend or family to get help.
· Family Radio – Also known as FRS and GMRS or "Talkabout" radios. Rescuers often use these inexpensive UHF radios to talk to each other and we can use them to talk to you. They can reach many miles to searching aircraft. People in your party and back home should know what channel your radio is on so we can find you. Consider using the first 8 channels. You may also get better reception by leaving off the privacy channels (i.e. use 8-0 instead of 8-12)
· Sat Phone – These are expensive to purchase but can be rented from many outfitters and outdoors shops. They work almost everywhere but can lose signal under dense canopy, in steep canyons, against a steep slope or with heavy weather. Sat Phones are at times difficult to call back. Get in the open and as with a cell phone, go up. Of Course if you find a signal, keep it! Before heading into the woods make sure you have the number for the District Ranger, Sheriff’s Office and most importantly, the E-911 Dispatch center covering the area you will be in. 911 May not work.
Survival Kit – Never leave home without a survival kit, actually never be home without one either. Your home should have a 72hr emergency kit and your car should have an emergency kit. Check out the Red Cross for info on those. In the woods, you must have a survival kit to hike, hunt cycle or anything else - for your own personal safety. These items should be kept in an easy to access place in your main pack or separately on your person. If a bear runs you out of your tent at night, it should be the first thing you grab. Keep a little food, water purifier, antibiotic, triangle bandage, needle/thread, small light, multi-tool, whistle, mirror, compass, waterproof fire starter, parachute cord, plastic trash bag/poncho and emergency blanket with you at ALL times. A small hip sack or a big hip pocket can hold all of this. Survival in the woods depends on a clear head and protection from the elements. You can survive days without food or overnight without water fairly easily. You won’t without shelter.
Weather – Mountain weather is extreme and can change very quickly without warning. Having appropriate clothing and protection from severe weather and temperature changes is required for your own life safety. Storms may be convective and build out of thin air, temperatures can swing 50 or more degrees in a day, hurricane force winds can build without storms, many mountain storms don’t show on radar (some of SW Colorado has a 30K ft radar floor) and the whole mountain is a lightning rod. Hypothermia kills, even at moderate temperatures. In the valleys, your sky view is limited and you may have only minutes to seek shelter during storms. Our weather is different from yours, guaranteed.
- Lightning – If lightning gets close, seek shelter fast. Lightning can strike many miles from a storm when mountains are involved. Get off exposed peaks, find shorter stands of trees, get out of stream beds and away from fences. If you are near your car and it is not a convertible (like a jeep), get inside and roll windows and close the doors. If you are totally exposed and your hair stands on end, crouch down on the balls of your feet (don't lie down) to limit your height and surface area touching the ground. Lightning can come from the sky or ground and finds the path of least resistance which may mean from a tree to you to the ground.
Altitude – If you come from anywhere lower than here you will likely be affected by the altitude, even if you come from 5,000 ft, 10,000 is a huge difference. The sun is stronger and the air is thinner. Wear sunscreen, even under overcast skies. Plan on not having the energy or strength you have at home no matter what your fitness level. Altitude especially hits your recovery time from exertion. You will also lose much more water just from breathing so drink much more than normal. Pay attention to the early signs of altitude sickness: nausea, fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, rapid pulse, swelling of hands and feet, pins and needles feeling. Severe symptoms can be fluid on the lungs (pulmonary edema) with dry coughing or fever, or swelling of the brain (cerebral edema) with headache, loss of consciousness, retinal hemorrhage. Altitude sickness is deadly. Mild symptoms can be alleviated by moving a bit lower. Severe symptoms must be treated by a hospital. Get lower immediately, get help and get patient to a hospital.
Tell others – When you go into the woods, leave a plan with family or responsible friends. Your plan should have details of where you are going (i.e. what trail, ridge, or draw), what map you have, what medical conditions may affect you, when you plan to return, when they should start worrying, what gear you carry, how experienced you are, how well you know the area, if you have a radio-what channel or frequency you will be on, do you carry your cell phone, where will you park. We won’t know what to do or how to help if we don’t even know you are gone. In a group adventure, you should all know the strengths and weaknesses of your partners, know their medical history as it relates to being out, have their phone numbers and an outside contact for everyone in the group.
When you call for help: The volunteers of Search and Rescue will do their best to find and rescue you. You and your party will have to help us to help you.
· Have a plan – All your party should be on the same page and work together. You may be able to save yourselves without involving the volunteers of SAR
· Leave an itinerary. Someone should have information about your trip so they can help if things go wrong. If you go alone, even for a short hour hike, tell someone or leave a message on your dash.
· Call us before it’s too late. It may take time to assemble teams and equipment. Weather and darkness may limit our abilities. Give us the benefit of being able to help you without putting our volunteers in more risk than needed. We may be able to talk you through helping yourself.
· Call 911 not your mother. We can do more to find and help you you when you call 911 than if you call a friend. Save your battery for rescuers. When you make contact: follow their instructions, stay put, and think before you speak. Small movements like turning your head can kill a cell signal when it is spotty to begin with. Getting higher may help.
· When you call 911 you should be ready to help rescuers with information about when, where, how, and the conditions of wind, temperature, clouds, and vegetation. Be ready to describe medical conditions, mechanism of injury and what has been done to stabilize.
· Know the strengths and weaknesses of those in your party. Illness, injury and recent surgery can play a big factor in how we formulate our response.
· Be Visible – Blaze orange helps but it may not be enough. Fall leaves and red rocks can mask your high visibility vest. Have an emergency blanket that’s silver on one side and electric blue on the other. We will most likely search for you by air as well as the ground so do everything you can to help us find you quickly.
o A Signal Mirror can be seen incredibly well, especially from the air, but you need to practice before you need it
o A Signal Whistle carries sound very well in a forest. Use long bursts. Rescuers one blast, victim three blasts just like gun fire.
o Be visible from air. We will usually make one pass overhead and then make a grid over a search area. Make yourself visible by waving, using a signal mirror, getting in a high clearing and wearing bright colors.
· Helicopter Safety – A helicopter needs space to land. Medical ships ask for a minimum of 200’ by 200’ flat landing zone with space to gain lift. Although a football field is hard to find in the woods, do your best. They have poor performance at high altitude and need good landing zones.
If you have to help land a helicopter,
o Clear loose material that can blow into rotors,
o Secure and tend animals (they tend to run into or under helicopters) move them far far away
o Put your back to the wind, put glasses on and hold streamers (flagging) up high so the pilot can judge wind direction and speed
o NEVER approach the helicopter until the pilot waves you in
o NEVER approach the helicopter from anywhere but the front
o NEVER go anywhere near the tail, the tail rotor is invisible and silent
· If we come, don’t hide. If you are long overdue or injured please let us find you. Don’t hide (yes this happens). We won’t charge you. We would much rather have the training and find you alive and well in a few hours than not find you at all after a few days. Whoever called 911 for you overdue will surely be happy you are OK.