WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — Officials with the Whatcom County Search & Rescue Council (WCSRC) warn backcountry recreationists not to follow a widely shared anonymous social media advisory making the rounds.
A version of the advisory instructs anyone “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.”
In response, officials with WCSRC say, “This is very bad advice. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.”
Instead, they recommend the following to make better use of what battery power your phone may have.
- Conserve what power remains
- disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- set your screen brightness as low as possible
- close any open apps
- EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE YOU HAVE NO SIGNAL, TRY CALLING 911
- If your 911 call is not going through, send a text to 911. Texting takes less battery
- Send a group text to family and friends
Do not send individual texts, just one group text and just text; no images. This also saves power. Include any information pertinent to your location and your condition
- STAY PUT
While your cell phone can be a valuable tool, there are many remote areas where access to a tower, any tower, is not possible. In that case, your cell phone will not be useful. The BEST advice is to be prepared for the possibility of not being able to call or text. This includes telling people where you are going and when you expect to return before you get into this situation
Other search and rescue agencies are also warning of this misguided advice. 1 notes, if you can’t call 911, attempting to make changes to your voicemail message are not likely going to be any more successful while you burn up your phone’s battery trying.