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Utah search and rescue crews debunk viral Facebook post

Posted at 7:59 PM, Oct 27, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — A new viral Facebook post has Search and Rescue Crews in Utah and around the country worried about potentially life-threatening consequences.

The post says as follows:

This is genius! I saw this on a friend's timeline and wanted to share…..

If you are ever lost while hiking, get stranded with a broken-down car, etc and you notice your cell phone is either low on juice or has no signal, here is a tip that very well may save your life.  

Change the voicemail on your phone to a message that gives your approximate location, the time, the date, your situation (lost, out of gas, car broken down, injured, etc) and any special instructions such as you are staying with the car, you are walking toward a town, etc....  The best part of this is that even if your cell phone dies or stops working, voicemail still works, so anyone calling your phone looking for you will hear the message and know where to find you or where to send help.” 

Experts say that right off the bat, your phone cannot update your outgoing voicemail when you have no signal, which means you are wasting valuable battery life in an emergency.

“There’s a lot of better options to do,” said Trevor Hatch with the Davis County Search and Rescue.

First off, if you have cell phone service the first thing you should do is call 911 for help.

Something called “Phase 2 technology” is an incredibly usefully tool that dispatcher's can use that ping a cell phone signal and locate where the call was made within only a few meters.

“Beautiful thing about calling 9-1-1 is that our dispatch center gets a GPS ping within a few meters of where you are located," said Brent Jensen.

If you don’t have service, no amount of voicemail changing will ever go through, leaving you stranded with a dead battery.

“So, we notice in the rescue scenarios that when you go up to cold cold environments, we will notice that our cell phone batteries drop down to 10 - 12%” Jensen said.

Davis County Search and Rescue also warns that telling everyone your location could potentially send others to try and look for you. If other family members were to try to go into a rescue situation unprepared, they also run the risk of getting into trouble themselves.

"If it's grandpa or grandma now all of a sudden they are going up to look for their grandson.” Jensen says, “And that does from a search and rescue scenario complicate their efforts.”

Tuesday night, crews in Davis county encountered a young man who tried to get his drone in Farmington canyon.

Read - Young man rescued after losing drone in Farmington Canyon

With very low battery he was able to call 911 and dispatch was able to ping his location.

He was in such a remote place that crews would have never thought to look for him and as Jensen said bluntly “And had he followed the suggestions that were on that post then we would not have been able to find him, and he would probably be dead.”

It isn’t just Davis County however, Utah County Sheriff Sergeant Spencer Cannon said, “A lot of search and rescue organizations brought up a valid point that if you are trying to do that… you are using battery life”

If you are stranded somewhere without cell phone signal for a last resort Cannon brought up that you can also text 911.

“Sometimes get text messages through that a voice call can’t” Cannon remarked.

But there is a drawback to that, it doesn’t send a location.

“With a text our dispatch center does not get a ping” Jensen said, “so we do not get a location of where you are at and that is key if you are looking for.”

So, if you can get a message out include things like your exact location, condition, age, description, an phone number.

Bottom line, search and rescue crews agree, don’t try to change your voicemail if you are in an emergency.

As for what to do when heading out “go prepared” Jensen said. “It doesn’t take much to throw in a snack and an extra couple layers of clothing in your backpack and just take them with you and just make sure you have a charged cell phone.”

Hatch agrees, adding,“Before you go out if you will just let someone know where you are going what your planned route is and what time you anticipate returning.”