SARstories News is our blog for all things Search & Rescue: interesting mission reports and articles, featured SAR teams and new items on the website, upcoming conferences, gear reviews, and anything else that piques our interest and we hope will pique yours.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

TrailNote: A Free Online Alert System For The Outdoors

Going hiking, climbing, camping, kayaking, or embarking on any other type of outdoor activity? Inform TrailNote when, where, and how long you will be traveling, and if you don't return by a specified time, this website will electronically inform your contacts of your absence. While GPS, cell phones, and other wireless devices can't always get through (or perhaps you aren't able to operate the device for some reason), TrailNote is another safety backup that you can take advantage of.

What you do is register (for free) on, name your trip, provide a travel description, give a start time and end time, and mark your destination on a digital map. You also enter the email or text message addresses of people you would like to notify in case you do not return in time.

When you do return, you can use a computer or web-enabled cell phone to cancel your TrailNote. will provide a warning if you forget. In the event you don't return, TrailNote will automatically message everyone that you selected. The message will contain a link to and provide your contacts with the details of your trip--where you were going, the map information, and your contact information from your profile.

I asked the webmaster of a few questions, and here's what he said:

Q: Can you tell me who started this site and why?   

A: The site was created by Richard Visokey and Brandon Price.  The original concept of TrailNote came after reading an article about Aron Ralston, who became famous in 2003 when he was forced to amputate his lower right arm with a dull knife to free himself after his arm became trapped by a boulder when he was mountaineering in Utah . One of the main reasons Aron's situation became so tragic was that he did not inform anyone where he was going and remained trapped for days.  Additionally, we were reminded of the concept every time we would hear a report about a missing hiker making the news, which happened quite frequently.
The connection between the majority of the missing person reports was that the hikers were not leaving notes or plans of their trips. No one knew where they were going. 
We both felt that there must be a better way to keep people informed when you go out, and TrailNote was the solution.
Q: I realize it's a free site for users, but people may be interested to know how you fund it. 

A: All expenses are paid by us with no plans to charge users a fee.
Q: Do you have any stories to share about users who've been rescued due to a TrailNote?

We don't, and that is the truly great thing about TrailNote. With the detailed notes that are created, when an adventurer does not return in time, people are usually able to locate the missing person on their own, usually with just a phone call, with the TrailNote information provided. This doesn't mean that people are putting themselves at risk wandering the wilderness looking for missing people, but it means that the information a TrailNote provides allows people to locate an individual quickly and safely.
This also means SAR teams, the authorities, and the Forest Service save resources and time by only being notified of a missing hiker when an individual is truly missing. Additionally, they are also handed the TrailNote, giving them the detailed information. Now rescue services have a far better understanding of what type of rescue they are dealing with. This results in a quicker response time, increased safety to everyone involved, and less cost per rescue.
Q: What about someone failing to report in when they've returned, even though they DID return? Any comments or stories about that type of situation? 

A: TrailNote has safeguards to help prevent false alerts, but it still happens.  However, unlike EPRB or other electronic systems, TrailNote has a human element behind it.  When an alert goes out to the user's contact list, it typically results in only a quick phone call or text message to determine if the user simply forgot to turn off the alert or if an emergency exists.
Q: Many of the SARStoriesNews readers are Search & Rescue professionals (volunteer and paid), so I'm sure they'll be interested to learn about this site. May they contact you if they have questions?

A: We are always eager to talk about TrailNote as we are very proud of the system we created. If any of your readers have additional questions, do not hesitate to direct them to us. We will always take the time to answer any question and take suggestions about the service.

For more information, visit About TrailNote.
And here's a story from the Phoenix East Valley Tribune about TrailNote: Sends Out Emergency Alerts

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reverse 9-1-1

During a recent mission, our SAR coordinator made use of the Reverse 9-1-1 system to contact homeowners in a particular subdivision in the area of the missing subject, to ask them to check around their homes and in their sheds and other out-buildings where the mentally handicapped boy may have been hiding.

Reverse 9-1-1 can be used to advise residents in both large and small areas of an emergency or hazard (ie. a hazardous material spill, a wildfire or flood, etc.), to gather information to help solve a crime, and, as in the case above, to alert them to a missing person search. The system might be used to assemble volunteers or to contact an individual for a welfare check. In addition, Reverse 9-1-1 can be used as a community bulletin board of sorts and even for automatic faxing of information or instructions to certain people or local businesses. It can also be used to reconnect to a phone that was disconnected during an emergency call.

The Reverse 9-1-1 system uses a database of phone numbers and addresses combined with mapping technology, allowing emergency and law enforcement personnel to pinpoint a specific area or individual/s. At this time, however, cell phone numbers and Voice Over Internet (VoIP) services such as Vonage or others offered by cable companies are not in the system. Some TTY (TeleTYpewriter) numbers may be in the Reverse 9-1-1 database, but emergency services don't know which phone numbers are TTY compatible. So if you don't have a land line but would like to be contacted on your cell, VoIP, or TTY phone, you have to register your number within your county or city. The system can deliver text messages to TTY and TDD devices, so those who are deaf or hard of hearing can receive the Reverse 9-1-1 alerts. You should also register if you have an unlisted phone number or have recently changed your phone number.

I would suggest doing an online search for Reverse 9-1-1 signup and the name of your area. Or you can call your city or county dispatcher. (But don't call 9-1-1 to do so, of course!) This is an example of Coconino County, Arizona's signup web page: Ready Coconino.

Here's a great example of how Reverse 9-1-1 can be effectively and successfully used in Search & Rescue operations: Reverse 9-1-1 System Used in Search for 77-Year-Old Woman

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Canine Instinct--A SAR Dog Documentary

I recently received an email from filmmaker Nick Goodman about a new documentary he made called Canine Instinct, featuring search dog trainer, Kyle Warren. Kyle is with the Eagle Valley Search Dog Team, based in the Catskills and Upper Delaware River Valley of New York.

Nick Goodman spent several days filming the EV Search Dogs, including following Kyle and his dog, Quax, during some of his customized training sessions and at the Delaware River recovery effort on August 26, 2009. On that day, EV Search Dogs responded to Knight’s Eddy, NY, to help locate Hin Hon Siu, age 36, who had drowned a few days earlier.

April 22, 2010, is the world premiere of Canine Instinct at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

Here is a short clip from the film, which can also be viewed on the SARStories website (Videos, page 6):

Canine Instinct is also the name of Kyle Warren's dog-training company through which he has trained more than 2,300 dogs. He's the author of the blog, Dog Finds Man, about his adventures with his Search and Rescue German shepherds, Quax and Maya.