In an emergency we naturally turn to the professionals for help. They are usually just a call away. But what if you can’t reach them using  your phone? Do you have other means to call for help when the phones are down?

In this article I am going to outline a number of different ways that you can call for help in an emergency.

#1. Dial 000

This is the national emergency number in Australia for calling police, fire and ambulance. It can be reached from either landline phone or mobile phone. Even if you mobile phone is out of credit you can still call 000 (I know because I had to do this once before in an emergency). Upon calling 000, the Telstra operator will ask you which service you require (police, fire, ambulance). Once you let them know which service is required, your call is then transferred to the service’s Call Receipt & Dispatch centre or comms centre. They will take the details of your call, dispatch the appropriate resources and pass on the details of the emergency to the responders. Always ensure you give your address first because if you pass out or something else happens to you so that you are unable to use the phone at least they have that info and can send police to your location to investigate.
If your house is on fire for example and you are unable to call 000 get neighbour or passerby to call them for you. Never assume that 000 has been rung. I once called in a well involved vehicle fire near my home town literally 30 seconds after the initial caller had made the call and was able to provide accurate details of the exact location of the incident as well as what was going on. Multiple calls usually helps the operator to gauge the severity of the incident as well as gain additional information from different people. In the fire brigade, upgrading a call early is so important as it can buy precious time.
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#2. Local fire, police and ambulance station

Depending on whether the local police, fire and ambulance station are manned you may be able to summon for help using their general business number if 000 is congested. Volunteer stations are usually not manned when there’s no callouts but sometimes the station phone number is diverted to a brigade/unit Duty Officer who can take the details of your call. In a major disaster most emergency services will be responding to an influx of emergencies whilst others outside of the affected area may be put on standby in case their assistance is required. If calling them doesn’t work and you are physically able to do so you could walk or drive to the station and report an emergency in person.

#3. Send a SMS via the National Relay System

If you’re stranded in a remote area or find yourself caught in a situation where the mobile phone towers are congested and you are unable to make a call, then sending an SMS to emergency services may be an option. SMS messages often reach their destination when phone calls can’t. This is something that very few people know about. In order to send a message to the 000 Emergency Operations Centre, you can use the Australian National Relay Service (NRS) which has been operational since 1 July 2013 and send a text to 0423 677 767 to relay an SOS message to them. This should only be used as a last  resort though and when all other available options are exhausted.

Steps to do this are as follows:
– Make sure that you include in your initial message:
– Triple Zero (000) as the number you want to call – the NRS computer system will then recognise your text as an emergency message and will give it priority over all other non-emergency calls as soon as the message is received
– the particular emergency service you need – police, fire brigade or ambulance
– the exact address or location of the emergency.
– BONUS TIP: Keep this phone number handy by entering it into your phone contacts.
When the call is answered, the relay officer will place the call to Triple Zero. They will stay on the line to relay your call to the emergency service.

You can also use this service to relay short messages to friends and loved ones to let them know that you are ok. More info on how to use this system can be found at…/tips…/tips-for-sms-relay-calls/

You can also call 106 on a landline phone and type PPP for police, FFF for fire and AAA for ambulance.

#4. Ch 5 UHF CB/ 27 MHz

Channels 5 and 35 on the UHF Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS or CB) are legislated as the channels to be used online in emergencies. Same as channel 9 on HF/27 MHz. These channels may be monitored by volunteers who may be attached to an emergency radio comms organisation or they may be independent. In some country areas, police and other emergency services may also monitor and/or use UHF channel 5, however this is not guaranteed as circumstances vary from region to region.
 CB emergency monitors can take the details of your call and relay them onto emergency services. Be advised emergency monitors are unable to provide over-the-radio medical advice. Also be aware that it is impossible for any volunteer group or individual to guarantee 100% coverage 24/7 without a large number of volunteers and funds.
To call for help simply follow this procedure:
  1. Select the emergency channel on your CB – Channel 9 AM or USB on 27 MHz sets (channel 5 if it is an old 18 channel CB), or Channel 5 on the UHF Band (select ‘Duplex’ or ‘Repeater’ mode if in range of a channel 5/35 emergency repeater, otherwise use ‘Simplex’ mode – i.e. turn your Repeater or Duplex button OFF).In some country regions, emergency Monitors may monitor other local UHF repeaters in addition to, or instead of, the emergency repeater. If no response is received, try other local channels.
  2. Call “Any emergency monitor, this is (give your call-sign or first name) calling any emergency monitor”
  3. Give the Monitor time to answer! If no response is received within 30 or so seconds, call again.
  4. Respond with the nature of the incident, exact location and other information. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what information to give, the Monitor will ask you for the information that he/she needs in order to notify the required services.
  5. IMPORTANT! Emergency Monitors can NOT offer first aid or medical advice over the radio under any circumstances. If absolutely necessary, they will contact the Ambulance Service or a Doctor and relay any advice they may have.
  6. There may be times when an Emergency Monitor is not available, or can not hear you. Atmospheric conditions can do very strange things to radio signals, and a local Monitor may not be able to hear your call above the level of interference being received at his/her location. If no one answers your call on the emergency channel, try other channels, especially UHF Channel 40 or HF Channel 8 (Road Channel) or other local repeaters (UHF Band).

#5. Ham Radio

This is one of the most reliable forms of emergency communication especially when the phones are down. Most ham radio operators like myself are always happy to lend a ham. In almost every major disaster in history, ham radio operators have stepped in the gap and helped make a difference such as establishing communication links to disaster stricken areas, supporting emergency services comms and relaying vital information in and out of the affected zones.
Ham radio requires a license to operate but in an emergency involving risk to life even if you are unlicensed you are allowed to make a mayday call. The best place to do this is on a local repeater frequency as your call will go out further than on simplex. Ham radio operators have basic training on how to answer emergency calls and pass them onto the relevant emergency service. Be advised that ham radio operators may be unable to offer any first aid or medical advice over the radio although we will do the best we can to help you.  If need be we can relay info from the ambulance dispatcher to you over the radio.

#6. Personal Locator Beacon

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a portable device which, when activated, transmits a message which is received by satellites orbiting the Earth, and is then relayed to emergency services. There are many variations and brands of this device on the market today. In the case of an activation by a bushwalker this will usually be a rescue helicopter. The helicopter then goes to the coordinates the beacon transmitted (or uses advanced radio direction finding to hone in on the beacon’s signal) and can then rescue the distressed bushwalker.

The system is the primary emergency communications method for remote areas as the system works world-wide which is why it is also used extensively by ships and aircraft. Modern PLB’s are small and cheap enough for the average bushwalker to carry.

#7. SatPhone

A SatPhone is a great method of calling for help in remote locations. They provide much broader coverage than mobile phones as they rely on satellites rather than mobile phone towers. Like mobile phones they require a plan in order to use them and they also have a “normal” mobile phone number.  They only work in a location with a clear view of the sky so won’t work well in valleys or indoors.
One thing you should be aware of is that some sat phone networks do not support 000 and 112 so they may not work at all. For example the Iridium network does not support it but Telstra Satellite does. Instead, Iridium uses the number 767 (S0S) to contact an international SOS medical centre.

#8. Traditional Methods

When all else fails traditional signalling methods can be used. If you see an aircraft or helicopter flying overhead, use a signalling mirror from your survival kit, any shiny object or a car mirror to flash the sun’s reflection at the aircraft. Remember that 3 whistle blasts, flashes of light, flares and smoky fires in a triangle are all universally recognised distress signals. Don’t waste your energy screaming for help! Setup a tinsel tripod (using brightly coloured, reflective bits and pieces), draw/write directional arrows or ground-to-air messages (using sticks and rocks or create the letters with your hands in the dirt or sand) to attract attention from people both on land and in the air.

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