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Toward a More Efficient Callout System

It is 2am and your coordinator has just called you to notify you of an overdue hiker. He requests that you call the team and have them at the staging area as soon as possible. So, what do you do?

Maybe your team uses pagers so that you can page the entire team with a single phone call. This page may include some sort of voicemail message to disseminate details to the team. Maybe you have even devised a numeric code in addition to the page to help with explanations. Another possibility is the phone tree where you call somebody who then calls others. With the proliferation of cell phones the phone tree can be fairly effective when folks are spread all over the place.

Regardless of your current system, have you considered using text messaging? Text messaging has several advantages over phone conversation when it comes to SAR callouts and sending other timely information. Text messages can be received by cell phones as well as certain pagers. For example, with a single message you can call your team, tell them the meeting location, offer some details as to the mission at hand, and request their availability. Your teammates can then return a text message with their availability. You, as the person organizing the callout can sit back and wait for availability. This is much more efficient than waiting for the phone to ring and repeating yourself numerous times or listening to numerous voicemail messages. This entire exchange can occur while you are sitting in a meeting or at your desk. Text messaging also has the advantage in that if you are in a marginal cell coverage area, you are more likely to be able to send and receive text compared to initiating or receiving a phone call. Since commercial cell networks have broad coverage, a text messaging system can provide backup and fill in holes in the coverage of your pager network.

So, how do you send a text message? The easiest way is via email. Virtually every cell service provider provides a direct to phone email address for users of their service. For example, to send an email to the phone of a Sprint subscriber, you would address the email as Below is a list of the email addressing protocols for a few service providers. All of them use the 10 digit phone number before the "@".

  • ATT(Cingular):
  • T-Mobile:
  • Sprint:
  • Nextel:
  • Verizon:
  • Virgin:

To send a text message from your phone to another phone, the addressing is even easier. You don't need to know the service provider, just send the message to the 10 digit phone number. Sending a message to an email address can be a bit more cumbersome from your phone depending upon the model of the phone and the service that you have purchased. Responding to a text message that was sent via email, however, is just a matter of using "reply".

Did you know that the county pagers can also be sent text messages via email? I am not talking about the form on the county web site, but a direct email address. If you would like to know the address protocol, then drop me an email.

Let's take this system a step further. Rather than keeping each individual address as part of an "address list" in your email program, why don't you set up an email forwarder. That way all you have to do is send the email to a single email address (like and it automatically gets forwarded to all the cell phones, pagers, and email addresses. This system has the advantage of being accessible everywhere. You don't have to be tied to a particular computer with a particular address book. You just send an email to that one address, and it automatically goes to everybody. How simple is that? This opens up further possibilities for folks like Volunteer Forces who need to call out multiple teams. You could have a forwarder that forwards to other forwarders. That way with a single email you could call out the several teams.

If this sounds like something you may be interested in, and would like to have a forwarder set up for your team under the SBSAR.ORG domain, then drop me a line . I will set it up for you and tell you how to access it. You will then need to put in your team members' addresses.

In SAR Council there has been talk about a county-wide paging system for a couple of years now. This system has more features than the one that I describe here, but the end result is similar. Also, to make the county-wide system work they will need to collect the same kind of information from users, so this will give you a "leg up" on that work. So far, a few teams in the county use a system such as this. My team uses it extensively and it is very effective.

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