Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Let someone know before you go”; is an oft repeated, albeit simplistic slogan, a pointer to a critical safety step in planning any trip. This section explains why it is so important.
A mobile or satellite phone, PLB or tracker with an SOS button does NOT eliminate the need for a Trip Emergency Contact.
A Trip Intentions Form lodged on a website or in a box somewhere is NOT a substitute for a real person holding the full details of the trip.
A Trip Emergency Contact is recommended for all trips, but is essential for:
- any solo trip
- an extended trip
- a remote area trip
- a trip in an area with no or limited mobile phone coverage
- any trip run by a Club or Association.
A trip by a larger group in an area with good access and certain mobile phone coverage, may have less need for a Trip Emergency Contact, but it’s good practice to have an emergency contact for all trips.
For an informal group with no nominated leader, one member needs to take responsibility for organising an Emergency Contact for the trip and providing them with all details.
A phone, personal locator beacon (PLB) or a tracker are not alternatives to a Trip Emergency Contact
No emergency communication device is fail safe. Mobile phones do not always work. See Emergency Communications for more information.
Rather, these devices complement a Trip Emergency Contact. When a PLB or the SOS button on a tracker is activated, the Police will attempt to contact the Emergency Contacts registered for the device (assuming the registered owner is on the trip), to confirm that the activation is genuine and to ascertain the details of the trip.
Too many emergency contacts?
If more than one member of the group is carrying a PLB or tracker, each device will have up to 3 Emergency Contacts registered. It is impractical to expect all those Emergency Contacts to have been given details of a trip. But if a device is activated it is not helpful to emergency services when an Emergency Contact does not have any information about the trip in progress.
A simple solution is to designate one device for the trip and to ensure that those registered Emergency Contacts are in touch with or have the same information as the Trip Emergency Contact person.
Nominating the Trip Emergency Contact
Choose the Trip Emergency Contact with care. They must:
- Be contactable 24 hours/day
- Have a cool head
- Have a good knowledge of bushwalking/ski touring; able to properly interpret and respond appropriately to what may be a brief message from the leader
- Understand the effect on the trip, for example, of heavy rain, snowfall or a road closure
- Be able to make a sound judgement of when, and when not, to call emergency services
- Have details of the Emergency Contact registered for the designated emergency communication device carried in the group.
Trip Emergency Contact role
- Contact emergency services if the leader does not notify the Trip Emergency Contact of the safe return by the nominated time (having first made every effort to contact the group.)
- Provide full details of the group and the trip to emergency services (checklist below). In the event of the leader ringing 000, once the specific emergency has been communicated, the leader can direct emergency services to the Trip Emergency Contact for details of the group and trip. This saves the leader time in a situation where they have their hands full and conserves their phone battery.
- Arrange for other assistance if the leader advises of a problem that does not require emergency services, e.g. a bogged car. Again, much easier than the leader trying to do so with poor phone signal and limited battery life.
- Keep partners/family members informed:
- of any delays or changes of plan to the trip.
- as a reassuring point of contact, importantly avoiding the possibility of anxious family members directly contacting emergency services unnecessarily. This requires all group members’ families/partners to know who is the Trip Emergency Contact.
Club Emergency Contacts
- A Club or Association should have an Emergency Contact for all trips.
- A good and common practice is for the Club to appoint a small group of experienced members to the role, together with a standard process for Trip Leaders to ensure the Club’s Emergency Contacts have access to all the necessary trip information.
Information for the Trip Emergency Contact
Below is a comprehensive list for an extended or remote area trip. Some items may not be required for easier trips with good access and support readily available.
This information should be in digital form so it can be easily forwarded to emergency services and to the emergency contacts listed for each emergency device carried in the group.
- Starting and finishing locations
- Intended route, campsites, escape routes (best is a scan of a marked map)
- Expected date and time of finishing
- Date and time when the Trip Emergency Contact should inform emergency services if the leader has not notified safe return
- Vehicles: model, type, colour, registration, where parked
- Leader’s name, address, mobile number
- Names, addresses and mobile numbers of all group members
- Any relevant medical conditions
- Emergency contact (e.g partner, family member) for each group member
- Level of experience of the group, age range.
- Summary of equipment carried, including colour of tents
- Details of the designated emergency communication device, including registration number, registered emergency contacts and web link to any tracker log.
Managing an emergency
The leader should contact emergency services directly by ringing 000 with either a mobile or satellite phone if possible. This may require moving to higher ground to get reception.
If two-way communication is not available, then a PLB distress beacon or tracker SOS should be activated. This should only be done in a situation of grave and imminent danger. That is, when facing a life threatening situation.
If none of the above are possible then some members of the group will need to walk out to contact emergency services carrying written details of the location and injury.
Trip Emergency Contact actions
if contacted directly by the leader, the Trip Emergency Contact should:
- Be calm and reassuring, but brief.
- Advise the leader to:
- ring 000 directly
- Conserve mobile and satphones batteries in the group by:
- turning most units off.
- minimising communications to a set schedule.
- using text messages (SMS) rather than voice.
- Contact 000 to report and confirm the emergency and pass on full details of the trip.
if contacted by emergency services , the Trip Emergency Contact will need to following an emergency call by the leader or activation of PLB or tracker:
- Pass on full trip details
- Keep family members informed in consultation with Emergency Services
“OK” location checks from a tracking device.
If a group has a tracking device, a standard “OK” message with the location of the group can be sent periodically, e.g. at each campsite, to the Trip Emergency Contact and family members via SMS or email. This is reassuring.
But what action should the Trip Contact take if an expected “OK” message is not received? A likely explanation is that the leader simply forgot to send the message, or is in a poor location and the message did not get through.
In this circumstance a call by the Trip Contact to emergency services is not warranted and is not likely to get an immediate response as the group has NOT activated the SOS button on the tracking device. No news can be considered good news.
A protocol for sending OK and other messages should be decided prior to the trip.
References and external links
- Trip intention form – Victoria Police [DOC] [PDF]
- Trip intention form – New South Wales National Parks