Changing your voicemail if you get lost? Search and Rescue pros say no

RAPID CITY, S.D. — You may have seen a post on social media this past week recommending what to do with your cell phone voicemail if you were to get lost in a remote location. On the surface, it sounds pretty smart – but law enforcement and search and rescue pros have debunked the theory.

“If you’re ever lost while hiking or get stranded, change your voice mail” is the advice given in a new Facebook post.

Going viral, the post has been shared thousands of times in the past few days – but contains some potentially life-threatening misinformation.

“In theory it’s a great idea, however – in practice – changing your voicemail takes service and also it will use quite a bit of your battery as well…so the best thing you can actually do is just dial 9-1-1,” says Tiana Shuster with Pennington County Search and Rescue.

Experts say there are far more successful ways to get help. Before you go, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back.

“It’s easier to get to you safely and get you out safely the more prepared you are as well,” Shuster says.

If you break down or get lost – stay put – unless you absolutely have to move for safety reasons.

“The absolute best thing you can do is stay exactly where you are,” Shuster adds.

And without a cell signal, you won’t be able to change your voicemail – so don’t waste your time. Don’t waste precious battery life calling friends or relatives for help – dial 9-1-1 immediately. If you’re battery is too low or signal too weak for a call, many emergency dispatch centers can receive texts, which use significantly less power and will automatically retry in areas with spotty signals..

Shuster says if you can’t make a call and your local dispatch doesn’t take text-to-911, send a text to a friend or family member with your location and instruct them to call 9-1-1.

She adds that your cell phone can provide you with your GPS location, and if you’re unsure how to access that, sites like YouTube can walk you through the process easily.

To conserve battery life,  close all your apps,  turn off WI-FI and Bluetooth – and don’t use your phone as a GPS or compass, because it’s a serious drain on the battery.

The viral post proof that advice – even from those that mean well – can spread misinformation like wildfire.

If you’re interested in working with Pennington County Search and Rescue,  their recruitment night is Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Pennington County SAR has provided their QR code below for anyone wishing to apply. Applications will be accepted through Oct. 31.


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