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Tuesday, 01 July 2014 13:14

SARLOC© – A method for locating lost climbers and walkers

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We use a variety of equipment and tools to help in the process of search and rescue, and as you’d expect, technology is playing a bigger part. One such tool is SARLOC©  that helps to find lost walkers and climbers by sending a simple text message to a mobile phone.

sarloc an application developed by Mountain Rescue England and Wales to assist in the finding of lost walkers

SARLOC© – A method for locating lost climbers and walkers

SARLOC© is a system developed by Russ Hore who was a member of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation for over 20 years, served 2 years as the teams chairman and is the IT Coordinator for the North Wales Mountain Rescue Organisation. Russ introduced North Wales Mountain Rescue Association (NWMRA) to the concept of tracking team members via their radios back in 2006 and has been continuously working to introduce techniques to assist the team.

The number of callouts rescue teams receive per year is increasing, putting a great strain on the volunteer rescuers who give up their time freely to aid those who come to grief in the moorland and mountainous areas of England and Wales. Quite often the Police receive a mobile phone call from people on the hill who are ‘lost’ normally due to bad weather closing in, poor navigation or being overcome by darkness, sometimes all three.

Given Russ’ initial work in tracking team members he has always been looking for a method of accurately locating these people and finally found a solution which is being used successfully on an increasing number of callouts including those that Dartmoor Search & rescue Ashburton are involved in.

The system uses functions of the web browser available on many mobiles. Once the missing person makes the distress call to 999 and the Mountain Rescue Team has been engaged by the Police,  the Rescue Team Search Manager sends a SARLOC text to the phone of the missing person. The caller then just clicks on the link in the text, the webpage asks the phone for it’s location, which is displayed on the Rescue Team’s map. At the same time the caller sees a page reassuring them that the team know where they are, and help is on it’s way. Don’t worry, the caller doesn’t need to do anything more technical than simply clicking on a link in a standard text message! It’s an interesting and very useful bit of kit, but has limitations in that the lost person needs to have a phone which has an internet connection and location services enabled hence it can’t be used for all missing person searches.

sarloc can send a text message to help locate lost walkers

A typical success story:-

Two walkers from the Midlands set off with no map or compass, heading for Moel Siabod, just south of the National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin. The pair, who had one torch between them, soon ran into low cloud, heavy rain and high winds. By 4pm, when they still hadn’t found the summit, or got anywhere near it, they telephoned 999 on their smart phone. When they were questioned over the ‘phone by the team leader, a definitive description of where they might be could not be established with some of the descriptions seeming contradictory. There was some urgency for this search as one man had a medical condition, and having been out in the poor weather for such a long time, his condition might have changed, making the search and rescue more urgent. Ten search and rescue team members went out on the hill to search probable locations of the duo, and the SARLOC©system was put into action. A link to the SARLOC© web site was sent via a text message to the lost persons ‘phone. They clicked on the link and their location was transmitted to the MRT with an accuracy of 12m. The rescue team members logged the grid reference on their GPS and walked straight to the two men.

So far SARLOC© has assisted teams in the UK over three hundred and fifty times. On many of these incidents a considerable amount of time would have been spent locating the missing people putting extra load on already over burdened rescue team members. With information from SARLOC© team members can proceed directly to the casualties location.

Russ says, ‘with today’s technology, whether we like it or not, our whereabouts can be known using the integral GPS found in most smartphones. It occurred to me that this could be used to MR’s advantage – and so SARLOC was born.

Russ is currently rolling out the system around the world to assist international rescue teams.

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