Outdoor safety, avalanches and smartphones

Smartphones are everywhere these days, and they’re replacing our cameras, diaries, address books, maps, GPS, and many other things in an easy hand-held unit.  We take them everywhere, and wherever we may be we know communication is but a swipe of the finger away.

Listening to a podcast recently (on my phone) I learned how these devices might not be as helpful in an emergency as they at first seem.  The podcast was January 1sts special edition of the BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors program, in which the show’s presenters went out on an avalanche rescue exercise in the Cairngorms with the Grampian Police Mountain Rescue Team and the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team.  During this fascinating show the rescue teams explained how although smartphones frequently included GPS functionality which could be helpful out on the mountains they also tended to consume battery power far faster than traditional phones, and in emergency situations this rapid loss of power could make maintaining communication with the rescue team extremely difficult if not impossible.

This set me thinking about my friends (both in the UK and the US) who enjoy skiing, hiking in the mountains and generally getting out and about outdoors, and how most of them are quite possibly permanently attached to their iPhones and other smart-devices.  I found myself wondering how many of them had thought about how that rapidly fading battery, which is usually just an annoyance requiring a charging cable at work and at home (and in the car if you’ve got an iPhone), could put them at greater risk in an emergency situation.

With that in mind I encouraged them, and you, to listen to the podcast if you head out off trail, or into the woods and wilderness, and to make sure you plan for the worst even though I hope you’ll never need it.  When global distress beacons (like the McMurdo Fast Find here) and avalanche transmitters (like the Backcountry Access Tracker here) cost less than a new smartphone it seems crazy not to take one with you!

You can download the podcast here, and please note that all title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the BBC Podcast remain the property of the BBC (alternatively it may still be available from the BBC Podcasts website here).

In addition you may want to check out the following links:

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