WATCH: Lost in the Natrona County Wilderness? There’s an App for That
The Natrona County Emergency Management team, is partnering with many other Natrona County response agencies to launch the Backcountry SOS app for Natrona County residents.
The app is similar to the idea of being able to text 911 when in an emergency, but there are key differences.
“This technology is a great tool,” said Sergeant Bart Olson, the Search and Rescue Coordinator for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s not a tracking program, so it’s not tracking your location all the time. But it’s a smartphone app that uses the GPS on your phone. And it asks you some key questions about the situation you’re in. And that automatically generates an accurate text message and your GPS location.”
The app sends information back to the Natrona County Dispatch Center and, depending on the situation a user is in, response teams are sent to the exact location the user is at.
“We know in Wyoming, that terrain and weather can be unforgiving, and being lost, stranded, or injured in the back country is a true emergency,” said John Harlin, the Undersheriff for Natrona County. “Time is critical in the backcountry. There may not be enough service to place a voice call to 911, if you need help. Sending text messages requires less cell signal and this application allows you to send accurate information about your situation and location to 911 in emergencies.”
It's a simple process, one that takes less than 5 minutes in most cases, and it can be viewed from beginning to end, below.
“The Backcountry SOS program is only able to be so quickly integrated into our already existing emergency response planning due to our text-to-911 system, which has been in place for nearly a year,” said Lori Jackson, the Director of the Casper/Natrona County Public Safety Communications Center. “In 2020, the Casper community graciously supported the funding to allow both citizens and visitors to our community the capability of texting 911 in an emergency. When Natrona County Emergency Management approached us about integrating the Backcountry SOS program as another way to better serve our community, we were able to say ‘absolutely, let’s do it.’”
Jackson continued, stating that, “While it is always our hope that these life-saving programs will not have to be utilized, if they are, your team of dedicated telecommunicators are trained and ready to coordinate an appropriate response.”
Jackson said that when a text message is received by the dispatch team through the Backcountry app, they are able to, within seconds, evaluate the information and dispatch the necessary emergency services to the user’s exact location.
“The telecommunicator can also stay in contact with the individual, sending text messages that communicate the information in real time to dozens of responders, to ensure that an effective, comprehensive, and safer strategy is in place,” she stated.
A situation recently occurred on Casper Mountain, near Ponderosa Park, that would have served as a perfect situation for which the Backcountry SOS app could be used.
The Natrona County Sheriff’s Office responded to a snowmobile accident near Ponderosa Park, that required the use of a Hagglund vehicle to rescue the individuals involved in the accident.
“That would have been a prime example of where it would have worked,” stated a Natrona County Sheriff’s Office representative. “The area they were at on Casper Mountain was down in Pitch Pin Canyon, where they didn’t have cell service. That’s the thing about this program, though- you have to have some cell signal. But a lot of times, a phone will have enough signal to send a text message, whereas it wouldn’t be able to send out a voice call.”
The app is also beneficial to outdoor enthusiasts, such as hunters, fishers, skiers and more.
“We’re excited to be a part of this collaboration that directly benefits our constituents,” said Brian Olson, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “In fact, we see a direct correlation to all outdoor enthusiasts. For example, if you think back to the winter storm we had in 2013, hunting season had just opened. We had hunters in the field and many were caught off guard by that early snow storm That storm left traveling in the backcountry nearly impossible in this part of the state. For those hunters that needed emergency help, the Backcountry SOS app would have provided the search and rescue efforts the exact location where help was needed. We strongly encourage all hunters and anglers in Natrona County to download the Backcountry SOS app, because it will save lives.”
A video demonstration of how the app works can be viewed below:
Here is a video of the press conference: