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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.

You can assess a survival situation in 3 easy steps. This assessment is based on the military understanding of estimating a situation. The definition of the phrase, estimate of the situation, is, “A process of reasoning by which a commander considers all the circumstances affecting the military situation and arrives at a decision as to a course of action to be taken to accomplish the mission.” (Joint Publication 3-0). Thus, a working definition of assessing a survival situation is a process of reasoning by which a person considers all the circumstances affecting survival and arrives at a decision and course of action that will enable survival through emergency or life-threatening conditions.

1. Analyze Your Current Circumstances

The critical step to gaining an accurate assessment of your situation is to analyze your current circumstances. This means that you need to get a proper evaluation of yourself, your environment, your resources, and your equipment. Your ability to accurately grasp these critical areas will set the conditions for the other steps of gaining situational awareness. So let’s look at these areas briefly.

Assessing Yourself

Health

The most critical subtask within this step is to analyze yourself. In an emergency survival situation, your age, health or level of physical fitness is vital to making it through the adversity. If you are injured and immobile, you will not go very far. You must assess, at that point, what is the level of injury or immobility? Then, you must determine if you have the means or capability to remedy the injury or the immobility. Thus, those who have an accurate understanding of themselves and their abilities will make decisions within those limitations.

Physical Fitness

As well, if your physical fitness is weak, you may find yourself reaching an obstacle of terrain that will stop your continued movement towards rescue. An excellent example of this kind of limitation is in the movie, The Grey. A survivor falls to their death while attempting to cross a ravine because they did not have the strength to hold on to a strap strung across the expanse. An ex-Army Ranger from Vietnam gave testimony that those who survived the jungle warfare of Vietnam were those who had the best physical fitness. He went on to say that those that were out of shape were the first to die in combat.

Abilities

Moreover, analyzing your health needs, experience, and skills also are critical factors in preparing for emergency situations. A simple adage in military leadership manuals is to know yourself and seek self-improvement. Employing this principle means assessing yourself at all times in light of survival or preparing for emergencies. It is as simple as asking what needs to be done, can I do it, and do I have the resources to do it?

Assess Your Environment and Its Resources

Next, assessing your environment is the second subtask. It is more than just determining what kind of environment you are in. It also has a good understanding of the types of dangers and resources within that environment. For example, if you are lost in a desert, do you understand the environmental threats and available natural resources? Accurately assessing your environment means fully answering the question, “where am I”? A suitable method for understanding your environment is the following checklist:

  • Type of environment?
  • Seasonal weather conditions?
  • Environmental threats?
  • Natural resources available?

 

Assess Your Available Resources

Third, assessing your available resources is the next subtask. This subtask is different than evaluating environmental resources. It is assessing the resources that you are carrying into the environment. In essence, it is evaluating what you have on your person or in your pack to address the essential areas of survival. Those critical areas being food, fire, water, shelter, first-aid, land navigation, communications, and security. You are assessing things such as how much water or food you have left in your backpack now that you are in an emergency situation.

Assess Your Equipment

A final subtask in this step is assessing your equipment. What equipment do you have and is it still functional? The functionality of your equipment determines how much you are going to have to rely on your survival skills and the natural resources of your environment. You must determine if your pack is ripped up or shoulder straps severed. You must evaluate the condition of your pack frame if it is external. Do you have adequate outerwear for the environment? Does your Garmin GPS or baseplate compass function? Is my fixed-blade knife dull or broken? Are the batteries dead in my headlamp? Did I forget to bring my multitool? These are the kinds of questions to answer when assessing your equipment. Therefore, after evaluating your current circumstances, it is time to make a tentative plan.

2. Make A Tentative Plan

It is essential to begin to make a tentative or rough plan after analyzing your circumstances. As the name implies, your survival plan is a rough idea based on the information you have from assessing your situation. The best way to plan is to do it as soon as possible in the survival situation. You are at your best health and fitness to make a plan at this point, if not injured or sick. Your mind is not yet clouded by hunger, lack of water, exhaustion, or exposure. Therefore, put down on paper a working idea of how you plan to effect self-recovery from your emergency situation.

Develop a Primary Plan

The first part of planning is to develop a primary plan. The primary an is the one that you are most likely going to conduct if everything goes well. The primary plan answers the five “W”s: who, what, where, when, why. It also covers “how” you are going to conduct your plan. Although you may not be able to answer every point, it is best to work through them anyway.

Develop an Alternate Plan

Developing an alternate survival plan is crucial. Soldiers call this your “When Everything Goes To Hell” plan. There are no guarantees in life. It is especially true in the outdoors. You cannot account for every possibility or circumstance. Therefore, having an alternate plan to complement the primary one is prudent. A good example of making an alternate survival plan is in the movie BAT-21, based on the book BAT-21 by William C. Anderson. Furthermore, your alternate plan also should answer the five “W”s as well as how you will conduct it.

Assess Your Plans

After making a primary and alternate plan, it is essential to assess the viability of your plans. It is helpful to do this step because you may find that you need to make adjustments. The information that you have and can glean from continually assessing your situation bears influence on your planning. For example, you plan to walk at night to avoid the heat of the summer days. However, you modify your plan because of the weather changes. Instead of walking at night, now, your movements will be during the day, at least temporarily. Thus, it is important to continually assess your plans and make adjustments as new information or circumstances arise.

3. Conduct Your Plan

Finally, the third step in estimating your situation is conducting your survival plan. An essential aspect of conducting your survival plan is to be flexible. Your plan is a guide not a lock-step answer to your emergency scenario. The longer that you are in the emergency survival situation, you will make more adjustments to your plan as you go. Observing the survival stories of others reveals that critical decisions have to be made at some point. For example, you may have to start a brush fire to attract the attention of search and rescue teams.

Some Final Thoughts

Situational awareness is an essential aspect of emergency survival in any environment. The three steps are easy to remember: analyze your circumstances, make a plan, conduct your plan. It is helpful to train your mind to think through the subtasks as a kind of checklist. People in an emergency survival situation are under a significant amount of mental and emotional stress, even if they do not panic. It becomes difficult to devote a lot of time to thinking analytically and solve problems in a survival situation. It is recommended that you begin to think through these steps as a practice as a matter of habit before your next outdoor adventure. The more these steps become second nature to you, the less you have to intentionally think through them step-by-step when in a high-stress emergency situation.

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