By Andru McCracken

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your cellphone could take the place of a satellite communications device, like Spot or InReach? It would be nice, but despite some confusing marketing of a new ‘geo-location’ service, there is no app for that.

Vancouver based first responders have been touting a new app that divides the world into uniquely named 3 metre squares. What3Words is a wordy upgrade to number-heavy latitude and longitude, and it’s being used with considerable success by many businesses and first responders who need to find specific locations”¦ especially those within cell service.

Some first responders in the Lower Mainland have appealed for residents throughout the province and search and rescue organizations to adopt the app What3Words. But it’s prompting backlash from organizations around the province.

Everybody else
Suffice it to say, search and rescue organizations that spend the majority of their time helping people who are out of cell service, are not on board, including our local Robson Valley Search and Rescue.

“Helicopters have latitude and longitude in them, they don’t have three words,” said Dale Mason, head of Robson Valley Search and Rescue.

The trouble is, in this area, when people need rescuing, they seldom have cell service.

Mason said the app will likely work well in an urban environment when dealing with lost alzheimers patients for example, but he cautions folks who would try to use the service in the backcountry.

Be prepared
While the trendy app is not recommended by Mason, he does recommend purpose-built satellite communication devices like Spot and inReach.

“They are great tools, they are not gimmicks. For $30 or $40 bucks a month. It is worth the money,” he said. “I recommend them all the time as part of a survival kit.”

When used to signal help, these devices transmit their latitude and longitude as a part of their protocol.

Communication isn’t the end-all be-all
Beyond communication, Mason said backcountry recreationalists, whether sledders, skiers, or hikers, need to be prepared with an actual survival kit and be prepared to spend a night out of doors.

Robson Valley Search and Rescue typically does 35 rescues a year, and while they are usually able to get to people relatively soon, events can conspire to keep wayward recreationalists on the mountain for up to two days.

“Some people are in places we can’t safely go at night. We have to do risk assessment and keep our people alive,” he said.

“If people are going in the backcountry they should have everything they need to spend the night.”

Adding to the need to be prepared, said Mason, is that there are days the helicopters cannot fly because of visibility and conditions.

Ready for winter?
Mason encourages recreationalists of all stripes to go over avalanche training pre-season, not just how to respond to an avalanche burial, but terrain assessment.