/ SKILLS: Calling in a Mountain Rescue

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UKC/UKH Articles 20 Jul 2017
rescue team, 4 kbPhoning for help in the mountains - we all hope we'll never need to, but if the worst happened would you know what to do? Mountain first aid expert Helen Howe talks us through the process.

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d_b 20 Jul 2017
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

One thing that did occur to me is that sometimes you don't want them to query the GPS on your phone - on the only occasion I had to call in a rescue I had to go quite a long way to get a phone signal.

Also, discharge lines hurt. I got one in the face when I was wedged under a stretcher and unable to move out of the way.
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Flavio 20 Jul 2017
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Probably worth mentioning that on a sea cliff its best to call 999 and ask for coastguard direct.

I was recently involved in a rescue, I called 999 and asked the Police for Coastguard, who the relayed the information over. Chinese whispers meant that the operation didn't go as efficiently as it could have and the helicopter was called in late in the rescue.
d_b 20 Jul 2017
In reply to FlavioL1989:

One thing they emphasise in the Pembroke range west briefing is that there is a good chance your 999 call will get picked up in Devon so it is worth starting from first principles and saying what general area you are in.
Will Hunt 20 Jul 2017
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:
I was at Robin Proctor's Scar last Sunday when a climber fell and decked from about 10m up a route. I called 999 straight away and asked for the Police. After being connected I asked for the Mountain Rescue.
"Oh. You've come through to the police?"

I thought, "Yes, I know! That's what you're supposed to do!"

Eventually, the message got through to the right people, but was hindered by my being passed through to Lancashire police in the first instance, rather than North Yorkshire. Tricky to get right, I suppose, if you're near the border. Worth bearing in mind if you're anywhere near the sea or a regional border.

Another person at the crag called at the same time and was having similar problems of the police not really seeming to get that they needed to contact the local Cave Rescue, who cover much of the Dales.

The confusion on the phone definitely led to an extra few minutes being added onto the response time. Fortunately the casualty was pretty stable so I don't think this will have had any effect on the outcome.
Post edited at 10:59
John2 20 Jul 2017
In reply to FlavioL1989:

Where did that incident take place?
Nathan Adam 20 Jul 2017
In reply to davidbeynon:

Don't know if you tried ringing in while you didn't have a reception, but when you call 999 without a signal on your own network your phone will pick up any reception on all networks and put you through on the strongest signal at that point. Obviously if it isn't working even after that then it may be necessary to go hunting for a signal but still worth bearing in mind if it means you don't need to leave the casualty.

Found this out whilst on a tour of a Coastguard helicopter earlier this year and they said it was something they wanted people to know more about.

d_b 20 Jul 2017
In reply to Nath93:

Yes, I did try. There are some valleys where there is no coverage from any network unfortunately, and in this case gaining a couple of hundred m of altitude was the only option.
nutme 21 Jul 2017
In reply to davidbeynon:
> One thing that did occur to me is that sometimes you don't want them to query the GPS on your phone - on the only occasion I had to call in a rescue I had to go quite a long way to get a phone signal.

GPS and GLONASS has nothing to do with the mobile network coverage. GPS will work unless you are in a cave. Even under a cliff (half of the sky is obstructed) it will have under 50 meters accuracy.

However police will not query GPS reading from your phone in automatic way (technically it is possible, but that's why Snowden is living in Russia now). They will use old good GSM triangulation to locate the phone and for that mobile network coverage matters. But today it is done using all towers of all operators, so results in most cases are very good. I worked for years developing navy navigation systems. It's quite surprising and scary how accurate you can pinpoint with GSM network.

Best practise I think is to get GPS reading first. Convert it to UK grid reference. And then call.
Post edited at 08:48
d_b 21 Jul 2017
In reply to nutme:

I was talking specificaly about the feature that lets the police or whoever ping your phone for location. You need a network to do that, and it only gives them the current location of the phone. If that is a mile away from where you need the MRT to be then you do indeed have to give them a grid reference, after telling them why they can't just ask your phone.
ClimberPentir 21 Jul 2017
In reply to davidbeynon:

There are 2 possibilities to remotely work out a phones position:
1. Triangulation using 2 or more mobile masts - can on occasion give startlingly inaccurate results.

2. SARLOC - this software remotely interrogates the phones GPS chip using an SMS message, and the phone then sends an SMS back to SARLOC. The advantage of this is that GPS is much more accurate than triangulation, and intermittent reception will often permit transmission of an SMS but not triangulation. SARLOC is widely used by MR teams and was developed by a mountain rescue team member (Russ Hore). As far as I know it is not used by the police.
captain paranoia 21 Jul 2017
In reply to nutme:

> GPS and GLONASS has nothing to do with the mobile network coverage.

Yes. But in order to communicate that GPS fix to SAR, you will need a mobile connection. Or a long walk. And if they want to use SARLOC to extract a GPS fix from your phone, they will need a mobile connection.

> GPS will work unless you are in a cave. Even under a cliff (half of the sky is obstructed) it will have under 50 meters accuracy.

Accuracy in the presence of large shadowing and reflections is tricky to determine. It can be hundreds of metres. Including reporting position on the wrong side of a ridge completely.
ablackett 30 Jul 2017
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I have had to call the police twice recently due to road traffic incidents, both times I have been appalled by how complicated it has been to give my position.

1st instance

Me: "I'm to the west of village x, can I give you a grid reference?"
Operator: "yes, but lets get your location first, as a grid reference will take a while."
Me: "Ok, if you drive west out of village x, then take the first left, i'm half way down the hill".
Operator: "Hand on, so did you go left or right out of the village?"

I eventually figured out that he didn't know his West from his East and we figured it out by using left and right, but it took about 5 minutes!

2nd instance

Me: I'm on the Axxx west of village x.
Operator: OK, thanks, i'm just trying to locate your position, what can you see?"
Me: I can see a bloody car accident, now can you look at your map and figure out where I am!

I have left both conversations frustrated and bewildered about how something so simple can be made so complicated. I imagine that the inept phone operator then has to describe the location to the police, which probably takes just as long.

What3words will solve all this, but nobody seems to be using it yet!
Ridge 30 Jul 2017
In reply to ablackett:

It's a significant problem, not helped by the call centres being centralised so operators have no knowledge of the area.

Rural areas are particularly bad:

'Do you know the postcode?' - No, I'm at an accident at the side of a road, not addressing a letter,
'What's the Street name?' - They tend not to have them on these back roads, I'll just go 3 miles to the next junction and see if there is one,
'Is that on the U4532?' - I'll just phone the highways department and ask them to dig their maps out...
ablackett 31 Jul 2017
In reply to Ridge:

It shouldn't be a problem though, using my mobile phone I can give you the lat/long, I can give you the UK grid and I can give you the what3words address, all of which would pinpoint me to anyone with any sense and a computer, clearly the call centres and lacking sense or computers!
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gobbledigook 06 Aug 2017
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

It's worth signing up to the text 999 service. You can text 999 if there is no/intermittent signal and this will be sent when you get signal.
The amount of data being transmitted is less than a voice call, so if the signal is terrible you can send more info than you could with a phone call

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