Plan & Prepare

Evacuation and Emergency Rescue

It’s never easy to end a trip early, and the decision is complicated by many factors. You have probably spent time and money planning and dreaming about your adventure. You don’t want to let others down—or yourself—but health and safety should always come first.

Whether or not to evacuate is the most important decision you can make in an outdoor emergency situation. The the time to fully assess the situation. The following evacuation protocol can help you decide whether you are safe to continue, or should turn around.

General Considerations

Evaluating the necessity of an evacuation takes many factors into account, including:

  • the severity of the injury or illness
  • the limited resources and impact of the outdoor environment
  • the knowledge and comfort of the rescuer
  • the impact on the rest of the group
  • the ability of the injured person to tolerate discomfort

If you are unsure of the necessity of evacuation, err on the side of caution. ”When in doubt, get out.”

Whether to Self-Evacuate or Call for Rescue

It can be difficult to determine whether the affected person needs to evacuate immediately or rest and reassess.

Consider that sometimes, staying put for 6-12 hours may help the person feel well enough for a self-supported evacuation. If it is safe to do so, self-evacuation may be a quicker and better option. Getting rescued almost always takes longer than expected and exposes others to potential risky situations.

Differentiating between a low risk and high risk situation will help you decide between the need for self-evacuation or a rescue. Consider the following, and reassess often. The situation will likely evolve over time.

Low Risk (Consider Rest and/or Self-Evacuation)

If it is safe to do so, consider waiting 6-12 hours with food, water, and protection from the elements. The situation may improve to a point where either you can go on with your adventure or self-evacuate. This may be the best option if:

  • The injured or ill person can walk on their own without endangering themselves or others.
  • Their condition is stable. It is not threatening to life or limb and not changing for the worse.
  • Your party feels comfortable in both training and resources to manage the injury or illness in the outdoors.
  • You have the ability to support the needs of food, shelter, water, and warmth for the injured person.
  • The injury or illness will not significantly impact the group or trip itinerary.
  • Timely recovery is expected with available treatment options.

High Risk (Consider Immediate Rescue and/or Self-Evacuation)

If someone’s health and safety is at risk, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Immediate evacuation or rescue may be necessary if:

  • The injured or ill person is unable to walk, or you expect that their ability to walk may shortly become compromised.
  • The condition is unstable. It may be life- or limb-threatening or getting worse.
  • The party does not feel comfortable to manage the situation independently without outside assistance.
  • Continued care of the injury or illness in the outdoors may pose a risk to the individual or the rescuers.
  • The injury or illness will significantly affect others in the group.
  • Medical care is needed for optimal recovery.

Call the local emergency number or 911 to initiate a rescue.

Going for Help

If you are unable to contact rescue services where you are, you will need to send someone to seek help.

  • Send two people to get help. Sending two people (buddy system) is best to ensure the safe delivery of both the message and messengers.
  • Prepare the injured/ill person if you need to leave them. If you need to leave the person behind in order to get a rescue, ensure their basic needs of food, water, shelter, and warmth are taken care of. Make sure you can easily locate them when you return.

Guidelines for Safe Travel

  • Before leaving on your trip, familiarize yourself with local resources and how best to communicate with them.
  • Understand that cell phone reception is decreased in valleys, canyons, and areas far from cell phone towers. Consider acquiring a satellite phone, if necessary.
  • Familiarize yourself with the most common injuries or illnesses where you plan to travel.

Are you interested in learning more about evacuation?

Download GOES to launch a digital medical assessment or speak with a wilderness medicine physician.