Lost and Found in New Mexico

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Prevention is the best medicine...

We had a happy ending with the finding of little Johnny before he was gone very long. But could this whole scenerio have been prevented? Yes! For both children and adults there are several things that you can do to help prevent getting lost in the first place and if you do get lost being found very quickly.
1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Even if you are carrying a cellphone, you might not have a signal so don't rely on it to call for help!
2. Know the area you are going to and check the extended weather forecast, preparing your gear accordingly. Things I never leave home without: (regardless of weather) are a jacket with a hood, lighter or matches, a whistle, several nonperishable food items and WATER.
3. Help your children prepare for a possible unexpected night in the wilderness. No need to scare them, make it fun. Help them prepare a small survival kit and talk to them about what might happen if they were to get lost. As well as the jacket with the hood, a whistle, food items and water (I reserve the use of lighters for older kids and adults) the small survival kit should contain the following: One ziplock freezer bag (used to carry other small items as well as a way to collect water), a large black trash bag (tearing off one corner of the bottom will make a nice poncho or it can be used to sit on when the ground is wet), bright colored flagging tape or strips of bright cloth (use will be explained later) and a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it (shiny side out it makes a good signal mirror). The whistle, cardboard mirror, black trash bag, flagging tape and food products should fit in the ziplock bag which can then be carried in a pocket of your pants or in your jacket. Older children and adults might want to prepare a kit in a fanny pack or small backpack. Regardless, even on a picnic, make sure you and your children carry the survival kit on their person at all times. Water is crucial and everyone should carry as much as they can when out playing or hiking in the wilderness. You can live for days without food, but only for a very short time without water. There are many types of water carrying systems, the easiest is a water bottle that can be clipped on to a belt loop with a carabiner (very cheap, sometimes free giveaways at sports stores and military recruiting stations). You can also tie a piece of nylon webbing or small rope around the bottle and sling it across your chest.
4. Before you set out on your hike, walk or just go find a pee tree, turn around and look back at where you are leaving from. Try to find some kind of landmark that would help guide you back in the right direction.
1. If you feel like you are lost or at least a little confused about the direction you should travel, STOP!!!
Take a good look at your surroundings. If nothing seems familier, procede to step 2.
2. If you are lost please don't keep walking thinking that you will eventually find your way back. Instead, concentrate on finding shelter and stay put. Adults and children have sometimes been found 5-7 miles from where they were last seen. If you keep walking and searchers start looking for you, you have a head start and we have to not only try to catch up with you but find which direction you went as well. If you are out in the wilderness by yourself and have told someone where you were going, we will find you much faster if you don't keep moving. Even if you didn't tell someone where you were going, staying put helps us find you much quicker.
3. When looking for shelter, remember a few things. Trees are probably the safest. Caves are okay but are sometime inhabited by other creatures. If it's lightening, don't pick the tallest tree, try for a shorter one with larger, low hanging branches to protect you from the elements. This is where the bright colored flagging tape comes in handy. Tie a piece or all of it on the outside of where you are taking shelter, about eye level. This will alert a searcher that you might be nearby, even if you are asleep. Also, try to find shelter near a large clearing and if possible a trail (even an animal path). Some searchers will be bushwhacking, but other searchers will be walking the roads and trails. To make a comfortable shelter for yourself, pile leaves, pine needles and branches into a little bed. If you don't need the black trash bag for a poncho, use it to lie on or make a small tent-like cover over you. You can also cover yourself with the debris (leaves, twigs, etc.), anything to keep you warm and dry, which is very important. Search and Rescue operations are increasingly using aircraft in the daylight hours to search for lost people. If you hear an aircraft, go into the clearing, with your cardboard signal mirror and lie down on the ground. Make snow angels (yes, even in the summer). When a spotter in an aircraft is looking down, they will see you more easily if you make yourself big (like the snow angels). Standing up, jumping up and down and waving doesn't do much because from the spotters prespective they are just seeing the top of your head and won't necessarily recognized you as a person. If the sun is shining hold the signal mirror at an angle that will shine a light towards the aircraft. This catches their attention pretty fast if done correctly. At night, a fire, if you are carrying a lighter or matches, will definitely catch the eyes and noses of searchers. Make sure to put it in the clearing so you don't start a forest fire. Use the whistle to call for help every couple of hours. The sound carries much further. And remember 3 blasts of a whistle (shots from a rifle, etc) is the sign for help (SOS). If you hear a whistle or your name being called, make sure to whistle or call back.
4. Conserving food and water. Remember you can last for a long time without food, but a shorter time without water. Eat a little when you are hungry or if you are feeling a little light headed. If will increase your blood sugar level giving you more energy. Drink often, not huge gulps but enough to keep you hydrated. If you are in a rain storm, try to collect rain water in the ziplock bag. If you are near a stream, refill your water bottle or the bag as necessary. One important warning: DO NOT try to get water from a swiftly flowing river or a lake that is not easily accessable, you could be swept away by the swift water or fall down an incline into the lake. Water can be found even in the desert, look in little potholes in rocks or shake dew off of trees in the morning (if they are near your shelter). And don't worry about bugs. If you get sick from drinking yucky water, that can be fixed later after you are found.
5. Be assured that if you have told someone where you were going and you didn't return when you said you would people will be looking for you. The same goes if you are travelling with a group and you are missing. Help your children understand that in this kind of situation it is okay to talk to strangers. Make sure you tell them that they will not be in trouble, with you or the police. Children tend to hide because they are afraid of strangers or think they will be in bad trouble. The most important thing is that we find them and quickly!!!
Being outdoors is a fun adventure! Take a few preventative measures before going out to make your trip safer. And if for some reason you get lost, STAY PUT!!!


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