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Call 911, don’t change voicemail to detail location when lost on hikes: BC SAR

A post circulating the internet suggests changing outgoing voicemail if lost, SAR says call 911
BC Adventure Smart has a trip planning app that allows users to make a trip plan and send it to a friend or family member. The app is available for free. (BC Adventure Smart file)

The BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) says not to change your voicemail with your last remaining phone battery if you’re lost or stranded, but rather, call 911.

This is in response to a recent viral post circulating around the internet that encourages people to change their outgoing voicemail message if they’re in trouble.

The viral post goes something like this, “If you’re ever lost while hiking, get stranded with a broken down car, etc. here is a tip that may save your life… change the voicemail on your phone to a message that gives your approximate location, the time, date, situation and any special instructions…that way if someone calls you that is the message they will hear.”

Dwight Yochim, Senior Manager with BCSARA says while the viral post may have been well meaning, it’s not the best advice.

“If you’re stuck and your phone is about to die - call 911,” Yochim said. “First off, you need to be in cell service to be able to change your voicemail. And if you’re using your last call on your phone, that last call should be 911. Don’t waste time and battery power.”

READ MORE: BC Search and Rescue groups warning against use of What3Words app

Yochim says that when you call 911 and speak to the operator, you will essentially give them the exact information the viral post suggests. BC SAR has explained before that when your phone makes an emergency call it will connect with any cell tower in range, therefore a 911 call may go through even if you can’t get cell reception with your provider.

Yochim also recommends that anyone headed out on an outdoor adventure make a trip plan.

“A trip plan lets friends and loved ones know where you’re going, what time you expect to return, and also ensures the person headed out knows their travel route, knows the terrain and conditions, has an idea of what the weather will be,” Yochim said. “The weather can change quickly, especially if you’re in the mountains at this time of year. It might be warm when you leave but by nightfall it could become quite cold. Do you have a change of warm clothes? Are you prepared to spend the night if you injure yourself or get lost?”

He repeated what many BC SAR groups advocate for which is the ‘Three T’s’ - Trip Planning, Training and Taking the essentials.

BC Adventure Smart has a trip planning app that allows users to make a trip plan and send it to a friend or family member. The app is available for free.

“While that viral post had good intentions, it’s important to know to call 911,” Yochim said. “We’re just trying to keep people safe out there.”

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Corey Bullock

About the Author: Corey Bullock

Corey Bullock is a multimedia journalist and writer who grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
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