Viral advice to change voicemail in emergency situation is a bad idea

Hikers and other backcountry users who get lost and have low cellphone battery power should not change their voicemail as part of a rescue measure.

A virtual post, billed as a public service announcement, suggesting a voicemail change with a new message providing your current location to anyone who reaches the phone went viral over the weekend.

The Evergreen-based Alpine Rescue Team, which has responded to wilderness emergencies in Colorado since 1959, takes exception to the “change your voicemail” suggestion, said Howard Paul, an ART spokesman.

“Posts like this get your attention, get liked by people who don’t know better, are shared by folks trying to be helpful, and the algorithm spreads it like wildfire,” ART said on Facebook.

Many people who are lost or need help in the mountain backcountry are low on cellphone battery life, after taking lots of photos and running map and trail apps, Howard said.

“Invariably, when we get a call for help and we are able to reach the missing party by phone or text, the first words out of their mouth is, ‘I have 4% battery life left,’” Paul said.

If you need help and your battery is low, don’t waste power by calling your voicemail, a friend or a relative. According to ART, call or text 911 for help.

Backcountry users seeking emergency help sometimes find they have no cellphone signal, which means they can’t change their voicemail, Paul said.

The rescue team suggests that people needing help should text 911.

“Text takes much less power, is far more likely to get through, will automatically retry many times if you have spotty service, leaves a record others can see and can give you an indication that it got (through),” ART said on Facebook.

People seeking help should stay put, unless they have to move for safety.

“Changing your location makes our job more difficult,” the rescue team said. “Trying to reach someone whose GPS location we have…is faster for us than trying to nail down a moving target.”

Maximize phone battery life by turning off apps, ART says. Keep your phone as warm as possible, use body heat and handwarmers. Experts also suggest packing a solar battery charger for backcountry use.

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