There is one thing that’s almost certain to happen when you’re in the backcountry: If something goes wrong, your cell phone likely won’t have any service. If there is, say, one bar, then a simple text message may get to someone, but a call likely won’t. And, you don’t have to be very remote to lose cell service. There are many places within 10 or 15 miles of Colorado Springs that don’t have coverage. For these reasons, I always advocate carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which operates via satellites and independent of cell service, to call for help.
While PLB’s can be lifesavers, they can have high upfront costs, or high subscription fees, depending on which brand you go with — and they’re another thing to carry. Fortunately, owners of certain Apple iPhones no longer have to worry about whether they’ll have cell phone service in the event of an emergency.
Apple announced Nov. 15 that users of any version of the iPhone 14 will have the ability to call for help using satellite communications technology built into the device. Called “Emergency SOS,” the service pops up on the user’s screen when they attempt to call 911 and cell or wifi service is unavailable. The app asks a series of multiple-choice questions to determine the nature of the emergency and using the GPS location of the device, sends a text message to the nearest 911 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) call center. In the event that the nearest 911 PSAP is not equipped to accept text messages, Apple trained operators at “relay centers” will intercept the message, determine where the nearest PSAP is and provide them with the pertinent information. Once the PSAP gets the SOS signal, either directly or via an operator, assistance will be on its way.
You can get an idea of how this works with this slideshow:
When there isn’t an emergency, iPhone 14 users can share their location with friends and family with the “Find My” app. The technology that makes Emergency SOS possible also works with crash and fall detection in the iPhone and Apple Watch.
Emergency SOS is available now in the U.S. and Canada, and will available in parts of Europe starting in December. The service is free for two years starting with the activation of a new iPhone 14, or for two years starting Nov. 15 for existing owners of the model. An Apple spokesperson said that the company did not yet know what the service will cost the user after the first two years, and also would not say if more advanced devices, such as actual satellite phones, were in Apple’s future.
The addition of this type of technology in regular consumer cell phones will almost certainly be a game changer for outdoor recreationists of all types.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.