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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.

Is your emergency survival planning on PACE? The spring outdoor season is upon us. The springtime is a great time to spend outdoors. The plans for your next outdoor experience are almost complete. Many survival experts agree that building redundancy in your gear and planning is essential to ensuring getting through an emergency. A simple method for building those layers is one that is from the military. The process for preparing and organizing your activities and gear is the PACE technique.

Assessing Your PACE

PACE is an acronym for Primary (P), Alternate (A), Contingency (C), and Emergency (E). These are layers of redundancy to ensure essential capabilities are available at all times under any circumstances. The PACE technique applies to the different methods of survival: primitive, bushcraft, military, or blended. However, several questions must be answered before applying this method. First, you need to answer the five W’s of your outdoor activity: who, what, where, when, why, along with how.

Assess Experience and Knowledge

Next, you need to assess your level of experience and knowledge: beginner, intermediate, or expert. Additionally, you should also evaluate the level of experience of others. This should be done especially if you are accompanying or leading a group. You should know yourself and those in your group. Furthermore, each member of the group needs to be aware of the level of experience of the other members of the group. Also, you and each member of your group should know what everyone else is carrying for gear. Thus, it is wise to share each other’s packing list.

Assess Critical Capabilities

Third, assess your critical capabilities supporting the activity: first aid, navigation, communication, security? The definition of critical capabilities are those assets that you or your group possess that if lost would jeopardize the survival of yourself or others. Consequently, that means having a good understanding of yourself and your gear and those of the others in your group. If you are in a group, one technique would be to share each other’s packing lists.

Assess Local Terrain and Weather

Fourth, you need to determine the type of terrain and local weather characteristics. It is crucial to survival planning to know where you are going, what time of the year you are going, and what are the patterns of weather where you are going. Others have found themselves in emergency survival situations due to unexpected weather events, such as flash floods. Consequently, they were underprepared for the scenario. Thus, take the time to really understand the historical, current, and projected weather of the location for your outdoor activity. For example, many people have reported their surprise at how cold the desert can get at night in the spring.

Assess Emergency Assistance Availability

Finally, you should understand the availability and access to emergency assistance near the planned activity site. One of the quickest ways to resolve an emergency survival situation is having a basic knowledge of the support available at your location and how to access it. There was a recent story of a teenage boy who ran almost six miles to a park ranger station to get help for his injured father. The young man could not do that if he did not know how to get to that ranger station. The key to survival planning is gaining situational awareness to better PACE yourself.

PACE Your Critical Capabilities

 

1. P: Primary

For the purposes of this article, the capability that will model the PACE method is communication. However, the PACE method applies to any asset or ability that you assess as critical to the success of your outdoor adventures, such as making a fire, rendering first aid, building a shelter, food procurement, or water processing. Therefore, for this hypothetical outdoor scenario, forms of communication are a critical capability that cannot be lost or activities will cease or lives will be jeopardized.

An example of a primary means of communication is a smartphone. Smartphones are becoming more sophisticated every year. They come with a variety of domestic and foreign plans, as well as applications. Many smartphones can function as satellite communication devices in an emergency where there is no commercial wireless coverage. The implied tasks for keeping a smartphone running in the outdoors is to maintain wireless coverage and to charge the battery. Thus, an essential capability for smartphone use in the field is the ability to keep charging the battery with a solar powered charger.

2. A: Alternate

An alternate form of communication in the field is a hand-held radio (HHR). A hand-held radio is also known as a walkie-talkie. HHR devices come in many forms. These radios can transmit and receive voice communication over a limited distance. However, for communicating with an HHR over an extended range, the ability to relay signals through a repeating tower come into play. As with the smartphone, keeping the battery charged on an HHR in the field is also essential.

3. C: Contingency

The definition of contingency is a provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance. Thus, for survival planning a contingency communication asset may be a Garmin® inReach Mini or a SPOT™ Gen 3 device. These devices are for sending out emergency text messages through a satellite service with geo-location information to help first responders find you. These items are almost a last resort communication device if the smartphone or HHR radio goes down or is lost during an emergency survival situation.

4. E: Emergency

An emergency communications capability is an asset that is for when all of the previous devices malfunction, get broken, lose power, or become lost. An example of an emergency communication capability might be a signal fire, signal flares, signal mirror, air horn, or a signal panel (VS-17). Therefore, an emergency signal capability could be any method that you can employ to communicate to others your location or whereabouts.

Some Final Thoughts

The PACE method is a valuable method to help you think through maintaining essential capabilities while outdoors. There is no right or wrong solution to determining your critical capabilities. Each outdoor activity is different. Therefore, the needs will be different. For example, a day-long fishing trip to a nearby location will be different than a hunting trip to Alaska. The same is true for preparing for emergency disasters. The survival needs for my area and family will be different than for those living in the upper Midwest. Thus, the PACE method helps you to think through the preparedness process and to resource your needs.

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