It is quite possible that at some point you will get lost or injured while hiking in the bush, but good preparation could save a lot of grief, injury, and possibly your life. There are several things you can do to minimise the chance of this, or reduce the consequences.
- Ensure you are carrying appropriate gear for the activity. Generally it is too difficult for the rescue services to search for lost or delayed bushwalkers at night, so always check the overnight minimum temperatures and carry sufficient clothing to prevent hypothermia should you be caught out for an unexpected overnight in the bush.
- Before departing for a bushwalk advise a friend or family member of your destination and route, departure time, estimated return time, number of people in the group, your phone number, whether you are carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), phone or other equipment, what they should do if you don’t return on time, and at what time they should notify the emergency services.
- Consider advising your friend or family member not to contact the police until the morning following your missed deadline, as you may simply be delayed and will return when it is daylight. Late return can be caused by such things as difficult terrain, someone injured and only able to walk slowly, traffic jams, etc.
- If you are in a bushwalking club, advise your family to contact the club if they have any concerns. The club will often have been contacted by the walk leader if there are any problems. The club will have detailed information about the route, number of people and any other issues to pass on to police.
- In popular walking areas like the Blue Mountains you can also register your walking plan with the local police or national park ranger.
- Do not forget to tell your friend or family member that you have returned safely.
- Carry a mobile phone. If there is reception, this can be a quick way to ask for help. However, phone reception can be poor or non-existent in many bushwalking areas, so don’t rely solely on a mobile phone. Phone batteries go flat very quickly when out of range. Turn the phone off before going into the bush to save the battery for emergencies.
- A Smartphone App may prove useful. Emergency + is a national app developed by the By National Triple Zero Awareness Work Group to assist people to call the right number at the right time, from anywhere in Australia. The app uses a mobile phone’s GPS so that callers can provide emergency services personnel with their location information. Emergency+ also includes SES and Police Assistance Line numbers as options, so that non-emergency calls are made to the most appropriate number
Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)
- Carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). A PLB is radio transmitter that can contact emergency authorities via satellite once it has been set off. Most contain a Global Positioning System (GPS) to report your exact location.
- Once a PLB has been set off you should remain where you are and wait for rescue. Do not attempt to find your way home as you may go further into the wilderness and delay rescue attempts. The search and rescue operation will continue until you are found.
- Do not turn off the PLB, even if you no longer need rescuing. If the signal fails, they may assume your PLB battery has expired or you have fallen off a cliff.
- Do not turn on a PLB unless it is an emergency or some life-threatening situation. Searches are very expensive.
- Once a PLB has been used you must replace the battery, as the battery life may be severely depleted.
- NPWS offices and police in some areas may have PLBs available for loan to bushwalkers.
- Remember to pack your PLB when going on an overseas walking holiday. A PLB will transmit your location to the local emergency services from anywhere in the world.
The Emergency Call
- The only way of contacting Triple Zero (000) is with a voice call
- Phone 000 (triple zero) and ask for the police when prompted. Ask to speak to a supervisor immediately if you are out in the bush away from suburban streets and the operator keeps asking for the nearest cross-street.
- Tell the police your co-ordinates if known (from the GPS, topographical map or Emergency + phone app.)
- Note that apps do not automatically provide details of your location to Triple Zero (000) or an emergency service organisation
- Apps display your GPS coordinates so that you can read them to the emergency services operator
- You cannot use SMS, email, instant messaging, video calling or social media to contact emergency services via Triple Zero (000)
- Advice police of injuries, details of party members and equipment you have available (e.g. food, water, tents)
- The NSW Police are responsible for initiating and coordinating all land search and rescue operations in the state such as missing or injured bushwalkers, canyoners and climbers. They may choose to call in the services of the NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue (BSAR) to assist in the search. NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue is a specialist volunteer squad competent not only in remote search and rescue, but in vertical rescue, canyon rescue and helicopter work.
- If your rescue involves an ambulance or air ambulance evacuation, this service is not free and could involve charges from several hundred dollars to several thousand, unless you have appropriate insurance. Costs vary from state to state. Generally, ambulance fees are based on a call out charge plus a per kilometre charge based on the round trip between the ambulance station, pick up address, destination and return to the ambulance station. Your private health insurance may cover the cost in Australia, depending on the level of cover. If you are travelling overseas it is essential to carry travel insurance to cover ambulance and medical repatriation, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars. See the NSW Ambulance for details of the NSW costs.