Signaling for Help After a Disaster

A disaster has occurred in your neck of the woods. It might have been caused by extreme weather or an enemy attack or an EMP.

But you had to quickly bug out and now you find yourself alone in the wild. You can’t see anyone and you can’t hear anyone.

Your cellphone is not working, so you have no way to contact any family members or friends to see how they are or to reach out for their help.

What do you do? Your only option might be to signal for help and pray that someone will see your SOS.

Logging on for help

This is not a farfetched scenario. In fact, a similar situation played out just recently after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida.

Amber Gee had evacuated her home in Callaway, Florida – just east of Panama City – a day after Michael struck. Her grandmother had also evacuated her house in rural Bay County.

But when Amber called up an National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration interactive aerial map from a safe distance to check out the condition of her grandmother’s house, she saw something she wasn’t expecting.

Spelled out on her grandmother’s lawn with logs from downed trees was the word “HELP.”

Amber contacted Bay County emergency services, sent them an image of what she’d seen and asked if they could check on the situation.

Emergency personnel did just that and fortunately found everyone safe. As it turned out, Amber’s uncle, his wife and a friend had decided to ride out the storm there. They spelled out “HELP” with logs because they thought they were in danger when the storm intensified.

Other ways to signal

Of course, spelling a word out on the ground like Tom Hanks in Castaway is not the only way to signal for help.

Outdoor Life calls signaling for help “one of the most under-practiced and under-emphasized skill sets in our survival arsenal,” and says “it’s about time we took it more seriously.”

I agree. Here are some of their suggestions for other ways to signal for help:

  • Cellphone. This is the first and most obvious choice, assuming the phone is charged and you have service in the affected area.
  • Whistle. The range is short for this device, but it is effective. Three short blasts are recommended to signal for help.
  • Mirror. This item can reflect sunlight as far as 10 miles away, and can be used to attract the attention of aircraft or watercraft.
  • Handheld flare. Especially effective at night, a flare will be even more visible if attached to a pole or branch with duct tape.
  • Flare gun. Great for attracting attention, they should only be used in wetlands or over open water. Otherwise they can be a serious fire hazard.
  • Flag. If you don’t have a signal flag in your bug-out bag, you might be able to construct one out of colorful clothing attached to a stick.
  • Survey tape. Lightweight strips of hot pink or electric blue tape take up very little room in a bag and can be tied to trees along your path in the wild.
  • Fire. If you keep it small and contained, a fire could be effective in signaling for help when it’s dark out. But don’t start one in dried grasslands.

Hopefully you’ll never have to signal for help. But because you might, pack what you could need in a bug-out bag. It just might save your life.

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