Finding lost or hurt people in the wild, rugged Irish mountains is no easy task.
When someone’s life is in danger, saving them depends on how quick and efficient methods of locating people are.
Volunteers throughout Ireland take on this life-saving responsibility, dedicating their spare time to helping those most in need of help in the Irish mountains. In the past, Mountain Rescue teams had to rely solely on casualties describing their location as best as possible over the phone. The team would then try and pinpoint the casualty’s location on an Ordnance Survey paper map. This method could prove to be highly inaccurate, as one mountain path can look near identical to the next for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the area.
But in the age of technology, Ordnance Survey Ireland’s mapping systems have evolved from paper to digital, and this has played a huge role in improving Ireland’s Mountain Rescue teams’ life-saving procedures.
Back in 2012, Russ Hore, a mountain rescuer in the Snowdonia National Park in north Wales, created a new smartphone technology, SARLOC, to help both him and his team deal with incidents more quickly, while also helping prevent more serious incidents.
Ordnance Survey Ireland provides Mountain Rescue with free access to their maps under the National Mapping Agreement to use in the SARLOC data base. Thanks to OSi’s investment in Mountain Rescue Ireland’s technology, SARLOC has proven to be successful and beneficial to mountain rescue teams throughout Ireland.
SARLOC technology is simple and free for hikers to use. If a hiker is in need of help, they must first contact the emergency services, and are then connected to the local Mountain Rescue team. A text message is sent from SARLOC to the hiker’s smartphone, which includes a link to a webpage. Once the webpage is opened, the smartphone’s GPS data is interrogated to pinpoint the Latitude and Longitude coordinates of the smartphone. The GPS location is then sent from the smartphone back to the local Mountain Rescue’s database, appearing on a digital OSi map.
This new technology provided by OSi has enabled local Mountain Rescue to locate people more quickly due to the accuracy of the coordinates, which has a margin error of just 100 metres. SARLOC has also enabled Mountain Rescue to use their team members more efficiently as well. By seeing the exact location of the casualty on the OSi map, Mountain Rescue can deploy the right number off volunteers to help the casualty.
“Mountain Rescue Teams in Ireland provide an invaluable service to our country and its citizens,” says Colin Bray, CEO of OSi. “The use of OSi data in SARLOC further demonstrates how using the most detailed mapping information can help make informed decisions effectively in a timely way.”
Due to the format of the location’s data on OSi’s digital maps sent to Mountain Rescue, other emergency services can be contacted if needs be.
“SARLOC technology gives us the exact grid reference in any format, so not only can we locate the person or persons in need, we can also pass on the information to any search helicopters who are supporting our on-the-ground efforts,” says Donal McNamara, Technical Officer of the South East Mountain Rescue team.
“Weather conditions are constantly changing, so it’s very hard when working in the outdoors to benchmark timings of rescues,” McNamara says. “But this very simple technology has definitely helped us with our main goal of finding lost and hurt people as quickly as possible.”
This technology was first used by the Dublin-Wicklow and Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue Teams, but is now used by all eleven mountain rescue teams throughout Ireland.
In 2016, Mountain Rescue teams nationwide had 396 call outs, an average of one call out per day. It is essential that these volunteers have the best equipment to ensure they can tend to all casualties as quickly as possible, underpinned by OSi’s support for the service.
To ensure that all volunteers are up to date on this technology five years on from its creation, South East Mountain Rescue Association (SEMRA) organised a team bonding weekend in Ballymacarbarry, Co. Waterford. Teams came from all over the country to take part in scenarios using SARLOC, which was heavily used by SEMRA during Storm Emma at the beginning of March this year.
Mountain Rescue teams advise people not to rely on this technology entirely, and instead to select a dedicated navigator when hiking through the mountains, and to never go hiking without a compass and a map. Also, to prevent injuries, makes sure to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for walking. And remember, if you find yourself in trouble, it’s better to call sooner rather than later.
Mountain Rescue Ireland would like to take the opportunity to thank Ordnance Survey Ireland for providing their maps which enable them to use SARLOC for free, which has ultimately helped them locate people in need throughout Ireland.
For more information on SARLOC, visit https://sarloc.russ-hore.co.uk/