Casper Fire EMS: Better Alternatives to Sending “SOS” Than Social Media Suggests

left: (Screenshot of live briefing from Casper Fire-EMS, Facebook) Right: broken down vehicle (Shutterstock)

CASPER, Wyo – There are better alternatives to advice in a recent viral PSA advising people to change their voicemail message if they are lost or blocked, said engineer Casper Fire-EMS and head of the public information Dane Andersen in a live briefing Sunday morning.

“We do not recommend this at this time,” Andersen said.

The unsourced, widely disseminated and unapproved message from Casper Fire EMS is:

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“PSA – If you get lost on a hike, get stuck with a broken down car, etc.”

Replace your phone’s voicemail with a message indicating your approximate location, time, date, location (loss, fuel starvation, broken-down car, injured, etc.) and any special instructions such as you stay with the car, you are walking towards a city, etc…. The best part of this is that even if your cell phone dies or stops working, voicemail is still working, so anyone who calls your phone looking for you will hear the message and know where to find you or where to send help.

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Editing a voicemail message requires a lot more data than sending a text message, Andersen said, and there is no guarantee that it will take effect or be heard.

Calling “911” is always the preferred option, but if that is not available, people in difficulty can text 911, which uses much less data and can transmit a message with only minimal service.

The ability to text 911 has been available in Natrona County since April 2020. This technology is also the basis of the Backcountry SOS smartphone app, which also provides GPS location information to emergency personnel. Service is also available in (but not necessarily limited to) Teton, Campbell, Carbon, Laramie and Albany counties.

Andersen recommended keeping a draft text of the “SOS” message, including as much description of the location as possible, until there is enough service to send. Without trying to send a message, Andersen also recommended preserving the battery life of cellphones by using “airplane mode,” which prevents data from entering and exiting.

Andersen also recommended that people who are lost or stranded stay with their vehicles and conserve energy, both physical and technological.

He said he would investigate the source of the questionable PSA.

The free Backcountry SOS app is available for download:


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