Summer Adventure Essentials: Knowing your location can save a life in an emergency

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BCAS_VAN_032712_34-1024x682British Columbia is well known for its wide variety of outdoor activities and summer in B.C. is all about outdoor adventures and exploration. It is also a time when BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) emergency medical dispatchers (EMDs) receive more calls from people who can’t describe where they are when calling 911.

911 callers who can advise dispatchers of their specific location help ensure that paramedics can provide assistance as soon as possible. Without a confirmed location, critical minutes are lost trying to locate callers and help can be delayed.

“We’ve all seen TV crime dramas that make it seem relatively quick and easy to use modern technology to find someone in distress. The unfortunate reality is that the best information about a patient’s location comes from the 9-1-1 caller,” said BCAS Dispatch Operations Director Gordon Kirk. “Knowing where you are helps us get an ambulance on the way in a matter of seconds, instead of minutes. Valuable time is lost when dispatchers have to locate where a call is coming from.”

The Best Laid Plans

Tapping into the broad base of experience, BCAS EMDs share their five key safety tips for exploring remote areas:

  • Plan – know where you are going and how to get there and follow that route.
  • Tell – a loved one where you are going, estimated arrival time and check in with them at the end of your trip.
  • Know – where you are; keep track of landmarks, road and trail names, communities, and direction.
  • Prepare – pack a map, compass, food, extra cell phone battery and first aid kit in case of emergency.
  • Practise – how you would describe your location to emergency services.

Vernon resident Jason Dudar recently called 911 for a friend who had a medical emergency outside of town. “I was impressed with the way the BC Ambulance Service dispatcher worked with us to obtain our location and inform us they were enroute,” says Dudar. “The two paramedics arrived quickly and were very efficient and effective in dealing with the situation, especially given the terrain. They saved my friend.”

Technology Help or Hinder?

If a caller can’t provide a specific location, BCAS EMDs use several strategies to determine the caller’s location, from a series of questions about road names, direction and landmarks, to engaging Search and Rescue partners and using technology that triangulates cell phone location based on proximity to closest cell phone towers. While technology can be very useful, triangulation of location can vary from several feet to many kilometers away and is limited to latitude and longitude, not heights within structures.

The different varieties of technology also limit BCAS EMDs’ ability to use cell phones to pinpoint a caller’s location, as does whether or not a cell phone with GPS installed has been turned on. Backcountry users should also never assume that there will be cell coverage in remote areas.

Although it will take longer to get assistance without a specific location, people should call 911 in the event of an emergency. BCAS EMDs can provide first aid instructions to bystanders over the phone while paramedics are enroute.

Help Us, Help You

“Usually when people call 911 and don’t know their location, they are helpful in trying to assist us in locating them; it is not so much a matter of people being lost but more that they don’t know exactly where they are,” says Kirk. “We just want our paramedics to help our patients as quickly as possible and if people can benefit from our experience, so much the better.”

This summer, remember to know your location and be prepared for your adventures in order to make the most of the great outdoors.