The Other End of an SOS Call

July 14, 2023
Categories: Adventure
Tags: Safety

It was 6:22 pm on a Saturday evening.  I had just sat down on my couch to eat dinner and watch a new episode of House of the Dragon.  The phone rang with a Texas number and was shown as silenced.  I pegged this as a spam call since I don’t live in Texas nor talk with anyone in Texas.  The phone went silent, and a voicemail appeared a few seconds later.   The intro was still playing for the House of Dragons, so I might as well listen to the voicemail. 

“This is Sarah with the International Emergency Response Coordination Center.  We received an SOS activation from Wade……”  The phone rang again from the same number, my adrenaline ramped my heart rate up about 10-fold, and I couldn’t answer the phone fast enough. 

“Hello!” I anxiously exclaimed.  Sarah starts her phone call the same way she was leaving the message.  “This is Sarah with the International Emergency Response Center.  We received an SOS activation from Wade's Zoleo Device; he has you listed as an emergency contact…..”

Wade was on a mapping trip.  I had just spoken with him the day before via text, and I knew he was near Hanksville, Utah.   We are big fans of the Zoleo Satellite Communicator, which has an SOS feature that triggers through GEOS.  Once GEOS receives the SOS notification, it triggers a chain of events through the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC).  This service coordinates with search and rescue services across the globe.  When you sign up for Zoleo’s services, you have an opportunity to subscribe to this service.  When you subscribe, you list emergency contacts.  Wade had listed me as one of his emergency contacts. 

She continues, “Wade has been in a vehicle accident and is trapped inside his vehicle with minor injuries.”  Knowing where Wade was and what he was doing, I knew he was not in a minor fender bender in a 7-11 parking lot!  My heart continued to race, and my brain immediately started thinking of what to do next and what might have happened.  My mind could not help but visualize that perhaps Wade got into an off-camber situation and rolled into a ravine or something that would have caused his vehicle's structure to collapse completely, leaving him trapped. The assurance I had in my mind was that if Wade stated to the IERCC that he had minor injuries - he had minor injuries.  That was the good news that flashed through my brain. 

Sarah from the IERCC then asked me a series of questions.  “Does Wade have any health issues we should know about?”  “ What color of vehicle does he drive?”, “What is his mental state - do you have anything you can tell us about Wade that might help in this Search and Rescue?”.  I was thinking, “Oh shit! This is real, Todd.  This is serious.”

We ended our call with the understanding that she and or someone from the IERCC would call back with updates as they received them.    The next 15 minutes were seriously tough minutes, with many things going through my mind.  I would be lying if I didn't say the first thought in my mind was to say a quick prayer for Wade that he was ok and we could get out of the vehicle safe, alive, and unharmed.    

After the prayer, I quickly thought about whether I should text his Zoleo.  “Does his Zoleo and phone have minutes or hours of battery?”  If his phone and/or Zoleo had only minutes of battery, I didn't want to waste them.  I then thought about moral support and what seeing a friendly text might do for Wade.  I decided that a quick text would be good for his spirits, and I knew Wade well enough that if his device's batteries were dying, he would not text back.   I texted, “Hey Buddy, I received word, praying for you and standing by.”  I wanted to let him know that I was standing by for anything and that he could count on me.  If I were trapped in a vehicle, I would want to know the same thing.  

The clock was ticking, and my next thought was, “Do I call his Wife?”  Did I want to worry her since the situation was so fuzzy?  We had no idea what was going on, and all we know is that he was trapped in his vehicle with minor injuries and that Search and Rescue are being mobilized.   “No, don’t call her until we have more information,” was the loud voice in my head.   

I started thinking that he was remote and most likely off a road that a normal pickup truck could not reach, and it was getting dark.   “Would the IERCC give me his coordinates?  I need to get some other people with capable rigs and steady nerves  on standby if Search and Rescue fails.”

A few minutes later, my phone rings.  It is Wade!!!  I answer, “ YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW GLAD I AM TO HEAR YOUR VOICE.”   We talked, and I knew he was ok.    My 20 minutes or so of sheer terror is over; my buddy is alive! 

I later received several calls from the IERCC updating me on the situation, even as Wade was updating me. 

Through the efforts of the IERCC, Search, and Rescue services were commenced, and a Sherrif from a completely different county than Wade heard the calls.  He was nearby and dispatched himself to the scene within 2 hours of Wade’s accident.  He had Wade sitting in a hotel room within 2 hours and assisted him the next day with a wrecker service to pull his vehicle from a ditch. 

At this point you are probably curious about what happened to Wade at this point!   I think it's best if Wade tells the story, which you can find here.  

This situation could have turned out very tragic, but it didn't.  It is important that we all learn from these situations to either be prepared for the worse or, better yet, to mitigate these completely. 

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t take it lightly when you put someone's name down as an emergency contact.  Your emergency contact needs to be able to assist the responders with the appropriate medical history, mental conditions, and for us 4WD enthusiasts - what you drive. Choose someone you know and trust to keep a cool head. 
  2. Talk with your Emergency Contact about how to let your spouse or family know there has been a situation.  I would have loved to have not made the decision for Wade when to let his Wife know there was an emergency.
  3. Have a plan and understanding with the person you are the Emergency Contact for. In this case, Wade made it out unscathed, but what if he was hospitalized?  
  4. These emergency devices and satellite communicators cannot prevent something bad from happening.  They should not be used as an insurance policy to bail you out of a stupid situation, as they are not magic and do not magically teleport you to safety.  It notifies a call center to send out search and rescue if something bad happens, provided you can physically press the SOS button.    People and time are still required to rescue you.  Don’t push your luck. 
  5. I am sure if Wade wrote this article, he would say, “keep your damn eyes on the road!” 

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Todd Taylor
Todd is the Founder of Trails Offroad and an avid wheeler who loves to explore new trails whenever and wherever possible. They say necessity is the mother of all invention, which is true for Todd. His want and desire to find passable trails and new nooks and crannies of the Great American west to explore were his reasons behind starting Trails Offroad. On any given day, you can find Todd on an obscure 4x4 trail, curating Trails Offroad guides, or using his legs to hike to an alpine lake.

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