Good communications are vital to every mountain rescue operation – whether between the team incident controller (be that the team leader or delegated personnel) and his or her team members, between the team members on the hill expediting a rescue, or between the team and the emergency services.
Call outs are initiated via pager or mobile phone text message, increasingly the latter.
Once at an incident or training exercise, teams use a two way VHF radio system to communicate. The system allows all parties involved to talk to each other and to other resources such as ambulances and helicopters. Many teams – especially those with an extensive operational patch – have a designated 'Control' vehicle, kitted out with comms equipment, maps and GPS tracking facilities, which can be driven close to the scene of the incident and set up as a mobile resource. Others, whose areas are closer to the majority of their incidents, will run operations from their base.
Team members on the hill will typically carry a portable unit, usually in their rucksack, with a speaker/microphone facility attached to a shoulder strap.
The VHF frequencies are allocated under the auspices of United Kingdom Search and Rescue (UKSAR). Mountain Rescue England and Wales is represented on the UKSAROPS Comms Group – along with the other key organisations involved in search and rescue – where call signs are considered and approved.
Recent years have seen the development of GPS tracking, which enables rescue teams not only to manage their searches or plot the whereabouts of a casualty more efficiently, but to track the movements of their team members and the casualty party, on the hill and throughout the rescue.