No, don’t change your voicemail if lost. Rescuers explain why viral post is a bad idea

·3 min read

People are advising hikers to change their cell phone voicemails if they get lost and rescuers are really concerned about it.

Advice going around on Facebook isn’t a good idea, rescuers said. A post said if you’re ever lost or get stranded, you should change the voicemail on your phone to let people know where you are.

“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 post said.

The idea is that even if your phone dies, your voicemail will still work.

While the advice may not seem bad to the people who shared it, rescuers are very worried that this is bad advice people will follow.

“To be blunt, wasting time changing your voicemail could be the last thing you do,” the Halifax Search and Rescue team in Canada said. “If you don’t call for help, and you didn’t leave a trip plan, NOBODY IS COMING TO GET YOU.”

Additionally, if you don’t have service, you won’t be able to change your voicemail, rescuers said.

Here’s what authorities said you should do instead of spending time changing your voicemail:

Call 911

Rescuers said if your phone has little battery left, you should just call 911 and report the emergency. Even if there is little service, the call to 911 may go through, police said.

“First if you have no service, try calling 911,” Charlton Police Department in Massachusetts said. “Federal law requires the nearest cell phone carrier to transmit your call.”

Send a detailed text message

Other search and rescue teams said it takes less battery to send a text message than to use voice calling.

The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue in Washington said texts can be delivered with only “a fraction of the data” and a weaker service signal than a voice call.

You should send the text to your “trusted contacts,” the team said. The detail will make it easier for rescuers to find you.

“Compose an SMS message to all your trusted contacts,” the search and rescue team said on Facebook. “Text only — no images or attachments. Write where you are (as best as you can, bonus points for GPS coordinates!), your condition, and any info needed to locate you.”

Search and rescue officials could also try to connect with a lost hiker over text if they know their battery is low, Halifax Search and Rescue said.

Use certain settings to save battery

Officials said it’s a good idea to turn your WiFi and Bluetooth off on your cell phone when you’re not actively using it to save power.

You could also turn your phone on airplane mode, which fully turns off cellular capabilities.

“Stay off your phone except to speak with police,” Halifax Search and Rescue said. “Don’t call your friends and family while you’re waiting for rescue.”

Stay in one place

The Skamania County search and rescue team said you should always stay with your car or on a road or trail if you’re lost.

“It is FAR easier for a hasty team to locate a vehicle on a road/trail than to locate a person that has gone off into the brush,” the team said.

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