LPCOEM tips for back country safety - Help the rescuers help you when you need it most
Back Country Tips from La Plata County OEM
should help you prepare for back country excursions and with how to help
rescuers help you.
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 challenging the best of us.
Responsibility – By Colorado Statute, the Sheriff is solely responsible
for Search and Rescue within their county. The Sheriff is both fiscally and
physically responsible to perform searches and rescues. Although there has been
quite a bit of debate about paying for rescues, people across Colorado are not
charged for SAR.
·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 recreational licenses or 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. Go Here to buy one or visit any of the outdoors shops in Durango
fund IS NOT INSURANCE! It is reimbursement fund to assist Sheriffs’ with
expenses of their search and rescue obligations
fund will not pay for a medical care including ambulance, air-medical
transport, on-road transport, or hospital care.
fund may pay for some flight time of helicopters. Although it can’t pay for the
ambulance portion of a medical airship, it may pay for actual flight time on
helicopter though. This could be 1/3 to ½ the cost of the total running 5K –
15K per hour!
also does not pay for regular costs of the County like a Sheriff’s time on
scene or fuel for County vehicles.
CORSAR? Everyone should participate if they plan to be anywhere away from
civilization or where an ambulance can’t drive. That includes city trails to
federal wilderness, or even your neighbor’s back 40!
oHow is the
§TIER I: The
Fund immediately pays first for expenses incurred on those who participate
§TIER II: The
Fund pays second for expenses incurred on immediate family of those who
participate. This comes at the end of
the year after all Tier I expenses.
§TIER III: The
Fund uses a portion of remaining funds to pay for expenses incurred for people who
don’t participate after Tier II expenses.
funds at the end of each year go to train and equip the volunteer Search and Rescue teams and personnel
participate, buy a one or three year
card, have a valid Colorado hunting or fishing license, or valid OHV (ATV, UTV,
Side-by-Side, Dirtbike, Snowmobile) or boat registration
·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. Your GPS, phone, SPOT etc . are set to use Latitude-Longitude for the coordinates and WGS84 for the Datum.
Unless you know what you are doing, don’t change this. Most rescuers use two
forms of coordinates UTM and Lat Long. 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. Lat
Long (in various forms) are easier for large distances and are used by
everything from your cell phone to search aircraft. UTM coordinates are used
with NAD 27 Datum. Degrees Minutes Seconds are used with WGS 84 Datum and come
in several formats.
oAs long as
you read the numbers correctly we can use any format, however we prefer to use
lat long with WGS84 which is common to most all maps and electronics
coordinates as below. Don’t say “Thirty-seven”, say “Three, Seven”. The
following are all the same point on a map:
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”
·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.
tracking function and satellite texting have proven to be extremely helpful in
getting the right resources to the right place.
dealer about adding insurance to the subscription, it may even help cover
medical transport or towing not covered by CORSAR.
oRemember that like a sat phone, the beacon needs a view of the
sky to send its signal out.
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 the phone if
you can. If not: 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.
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!
oIf 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 under the right circumstances. People in your party and back
home should know what channel your radio is on so we can find you.
the privacy channels in the woods (i.e. use 8-0 instead of 8-12).
Privacy codes only filter out unwanted signals, they don’t scramble your voice.
channel 1-0 in an emergency
·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.
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!
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. La Plata County is 970-385-2900
·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.
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
·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.
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,
·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.
oIf you are
near your car and it is not a convertible (like a jeep), get inside and close windows
oIf 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 finds the path of least resistance which may mean you.
·Altitude – If you come from
anywhere lower than here you will likely be affected by the altitude, even if
you come from 5,000 feet, 10,000 is a huge difference. The sun is stronger and
the air is thinner.
sunscreen, even under overcast skies.
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.
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.
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.
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
·Tell others – When you go into
the woods, leave a plan with family or responsible friends.
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.
know what to do or how to help if we don’t even know you are missing.
oIn 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.
plan – All your party should be on the same page and work
together. You may be able to save yourselves without involving the volunteers
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.
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.
not your mother. We can do more to find and help 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.
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.
strengths and weaknesses of those in your party. Illness,
injury and recent surgery can play a big factor in how we formulate our
oBe 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.
Mirror can be seen incredibly well, especially from the air, but you
need to practice before you need it
Whistle carries sound very well in a forest. Use long bursts. Rescuers
one blast, victim three blasts just like gun fire.
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.
have to help land a helicopter,
loose material that can blow into rotors,
tend animals (they tend to run into or under helicopters) move them far
back to the wind, put glasses on and hold streamers (flagging) up
high so the pilot can judge wind direction and speed
approach the helicopter until the pilot waves you in
approach the helicopter from anywhere but the front
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