Getting lost, especially in the wild woods of West Virginia, can be overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and preparation, a person can increase one’s chances of survival and find one’s way back to safety.
From the West Virginia Emergency Management Division’s Search and Rescue Coordinator, the following tips can help a person stay calm, make informed decisions, and ultimately, make it out of the woods safely. Whether one is a hunter or just an occasional hiker, this information could be a lifesaver when a person finds oneself facing the unexpected while in the woods.
Here are 10 important tips from WVEMD’s Search and Rescue veterans about what people can do if they become lost:
- Stay Calm and Stay Put: The moment a person realizes one is lost, stop moving. The best course of action is often to stay put. Panic and wandering can make it harder for search teams to locate a person.
- Signal for Help: Use items such as whistles, mirrors, bright clothing, or a flashlight to attract attention. Three short whistle blasts, flashlight beams (flicking flashlight on and off), or other signals repeated in a series of three represent the universal distress (SOS) signal. A person may build a fire to signal rescuers, but only if it is absolutely safe to do so.
- Tell Someone One’s Plans: Always inform a friend or family member about one’s planned route and estimated return time. This information can greatly assist search teams in locating a person if needed. Make sure to include where one is parking a vehicle.
- Carry Essential Supplies: Pack a small survival kit containing water, food, flashlights (more than one), a first aid kit, multi-tool, an emergency or “space” blanket, and a whistle. An extra survival supply is a filtration straw which allows one to drink water more safely from creeks or streams in an emergency. These items can support a person until help arrives. Include medications vital to one’s health, such as epi-pens, asthma inhalers, diabetes supplies, etc. A cell phone does not replace survival items like a map or flashlight. Always carry essential supplies in the survival kit.
- Stay Visible: If a person needs to move to find help, stay in open areas and make oneself visible. Avoid dense vegetation or steep terrain that might hinder one’s movement.
- Follow Waterways: If a person is in an unfamiliar area, following a river or stream can often lead one to people.
- Stay Hydrated and Rest: Conserve energy by staying hydrated and resting when needed. Overexertion can lead to exhaustion and disorientation.
- Use Landmarks: If a person has a map and can identify landmarks, one might be able to navigate oneself back to safety. Always carry a map and compass when venturing into unfamiliar territory.
- Stay Warm: Hypothermia can set in quickly, even in mild weather. Dress in layers and use the survival kit to stay warm. Carrying an emergency or “space” blanket can keep one warm and help signal for help.
- Stay Positive and Stay Vocal: Maintain a positive mindset and keep talking to oneself or to searchers. This not only boosts one’s morale but can also help search teams locate a person.
Please note that these are general guidelines and may need to be adapted based on the environment and situation a person finds oneself in. Always prioritize one’s safety and follow any instructions provided by local officials or search and rescue teams.