We’re heading off for our regular Monday morning Sydney bushwalk. Amongst the essential safety items in my daypack, food, water, first aid, compass and map, is my smart phone, a multi-function safety aid in the metropolitan Sydney bush.
ICE your phone
I’ve entered my ICE (In Case of Emergency) details on my phone. If you have an iPhone running iOS 8, you can use the new medical information feature in the Health app to store your emergency contact details. This is conveniently available to anyone from the Emergency dial screen of your phone, without needing to unlock the phone.
If you have an Android, add your contacts to the “ICE – Emergency Contacts” group, and then these are available from the Emergency dial screen, again without need to unlock the phone.
If your phone or operating system doesn’t yet support ICE details on the emergency screen, there are a number of apps you could use that allow you to add ICE details to your phone wallpaper, so the contact number is visible when the phone is locked. Of course, the low tech solution is to simply stick a number to your phone, or keep a piece of paper with emergency contacts in your wallet.
You might also want to ICE your regular hiking mates by adding their emergency contacts into your phone Contacts app.
Making an emergency call in the bush
Before you can make a call, you need to get a signal. This can be hard if you are in a gully, under dense forest canopy. Try heading for a high clear spot. If you don’t have enough signal to make a call, try sending a text. You can’t send a text to emergency responders (000), but you can send to your family and ask them to call 000 on your behalf. If you are using your phone in an emergency, remember to conserve battery life for further calls, keep your phone warm in cold scenarios, and set specific times for subsequent calls if necessary.
In a life threatening or time critical emergency situations, the first number to dial is Triple Zero 000. If that fails, try 112, the international standard emergency number. 112 can dialled from any digital mobile phone, without a simcard or pin to unlock the phone, and so long as any carrier is available. It redirects to 000.
When you call 000, you will be asked some questions, including your location. Australia’s Triple Zero Awareness Working Group have made the free Emergency+ app for both iOS and Android which provides you with the GPS Coordinates that you need to give the operator when you call 000. Also included are other key numbers you might need in other non life-threatening situations, such as the Police and SES.
Where am I?
From a safety perspective, you should leave your trip intentions with a family member or friend, using good old communication methods that ensure the information has been received.
Your phone is also useful to update a loved one with your whereabouts as you continue your walk in the bush. There are a variety of apps that periodically send your GPS location to selected family or friends so that they can follow your geographical progress, through emails, text messages or tweets. “Pinging” home can be useful to inform when you started on a trip, and where and when the last location was that you had coverage and sent out a location update.
The Elements: Air, Fire and Water
You should consider postponing or relocating your hike on days rated Extreme Fire Danger or when a Total Fire Ban is in place. You can use your smart phone to check fire ratings before you leave home.
For NSW bushwalkers, install the free NSW RFS FiresNearMe app to check on the status of bush fires near you. You might also want to follow @NSWRFS on Twitter, as one source of fire updates.
A good weather app such as Weatherzone+ on your phone can give you information that can be very helpful to your bushwalking safety, giving you information such as
- Weather warnings
- Temperature, rainfall and wind forecasts over the next 48 hours
- Rain radar
- Tide information
- Sunrise and sunset times, and phases of the moon
Limits of smart phones in the bush
A smartphone is not a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) like ResQLink. Nor will it allow you to communicate with family, friends or emergency services in areas with no mobile phone coverage, like the various Spot devices which use satellites.
A smartphone only works as a communication device if there is coverage and while you have battery life, and it doesn’t like getting wet or being dropped. There are a number of ways to conserve battery life and protect your phone on the trail.
Before you set out – check mobile phone coverage where you are going to walk. It is useful having people in your group with phones on more than one network carrier, or you can carry an extra prepaid SIM (Telstra has best bush coverage). And make sure your phone is charged.
Remember, while a phone can be useful, it is no substitute for having good hiking skills, taking necessary gear, food and water, and being prepared for the needs of your chosen track and the weather.