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Emergency signal planning considerations are essential to experiencing a great time outdoors. They are also crucial for ensuring that you will be discovered in an emergency situation. In a previous article, I discussed the PACE method. Initially, the PACE technique was a planning tool for ensuring communications were available to military leaders. A more frequent use of the PACE method is to help someone determine the most critical assets or capabilities required to keep activity or mission going when everything else has failed. Signaling is part of communication capability.

When we think of signaling, we think someone flagging down a passing car or a search-and-rescue helicopter. However, emergency signal planning is more involved than a simple wave of a handkerchief in a desperate moment. It involves careful and intentional thought. The same is true for the other aspects of survival. Emergency signal planning is more than having access to multiple signaling devices in your backpack or emergency bag. The following planning techniques should help you better address your signaling requirements.

1. Establish A Communication Plan

A communication plan is the starting point for addressing emergency signal requirements. How are you going communicate when out on the trail, hunting in the backcountry, or deep sea fishing several miles offshore? A communication plan should include two things: reporting times and methods. Survival experts advise telling someone when and where you are going. You should also let them know how often you will be contacting them while gone. Another aspect of a good communication plan is developing an emergency plan. For example, what are your friends or family supposed to do if you fail to contact them at the agreed time? This means developing and publishing a communication plan that covers these concerns.

2. Passive and Active Signaling Method

The first consideration of emergency signaling is to address passive and active signaling methods. It is vital to have both a passive and an active method of signaling in an emergency. Military pilots around the world usually have passive and active means to signal for rescue. Active signaling methods are those methods that require physical effort to use, such as a flare gun or signal mirror. Passive signal methods are those that you deploy and leave. Then, they will continue to communicate in your absence, such as an arrow made of rocks, trail marking tape, or a personal locator beacon.

The most effective emergency signals employ both an active and passive means of communication. The idea is that the more ways that you have to make contact with someone through visual, hearing, and smelling, you increase your chances of being found in an emergency. The survival and emergency planning literature implies that you use these methods by the items that they list for an emergency kit. However, they do not always make it obvious that this is the reason that they recommend and flashlight and a notepad.

3. Day and Night Signaling Method

Another signaling method to consider integrating into your emergency plan is day and night signaling methods. These considerations are often overlooked in signal planning. We think that we will only be rescued just before lunchtime. However, many rescues can occur in the evening hours. Thus, it is to your advantage to address both day and night time emergency signaling methods. An example of a daytime signaling technique is a signal mirror. A signal mirror is only useful when the sun is up. An example of a nighttime signaling method is a personal emergency strobe light, engaging the strobe feature on your headlamp, or twirling a chem-light on some 550 parachute cord. Therefore, remember to integrate some kind of day and night signaling method into your next outdoor activity.

4. Near and Far Signaling Method

The next method to consider including in your emergency signaling plan is a near and far method. The near and far signaling method is most often used in tactical environments when stealth needs to be maintained. However, it is still an option to consider integrating into your signal plan. An example of a far-signaling method would be a horn blast from your vehicle, the report from discharging your firearm, or employing an aerial flare. The point of this method is to make your whereabouts known as far away from your position as possible so a rescue team can get to you more quickly. A signal fire is also a type of far signaling technique.

A near-signaling method is a little more complicated. The most common near signal method is your voice. Yelling out to those approaching your position will tip them to your exact location, especially at night. However, some near signal methods incorporate infrared light and night vision equipment. A more field expedient method for a near-signal method is hitting on a tree trunk with a stick. Some other near-signal techniques involve hand-held radios and the squelch function on the transmitter button of the microphone.

5. Voice and SMS Communication Methods

Finally, the next method to consider in your emergency signaling plan is voice and SMS communications. The most common item that employs both voice and SMS texting is your smartphone. However, some communication devices only use voice or SMS texting. The PACE method is a great tool to determine what you should carry to your outdoor activity. An example of a communication device that uses only voice communications is a handheld radio, ham radio, or citizen’s band (CB) radio. These come in various sizes and qualities. An example of a purely SMS communication device would be a Garmin inReach or SPOT device. The advantages of the SMS devices are that they can send an emergency signal with your geolocation data via satellite to first responders. Therefore, as you develop your emergency signal plan do not overlook voice and SMS emergency communication devices.

In Summary

Comprehensive emergency signal planning starts with a thorough communication plan. These five areas of consideration for emergency signaling will significantly enhance your outdoor communication efforts. The PACE technique will help you build redundancy into your plan. Thus, combining these five considerations with the PACE planning tool will give you an excellent emergency communication plan that may save your life or the lives of others around you. It is an excellent time of the year to enjoy the outdoors. Avoid becoming a statistic by developing and implementing an emergency signal and communication plan. Be safe, be prepared, and enjoy the outdoors.

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