Sunday, 2 August 2020

Finally a Trip Notification app that people will use: Overdue

Since 2002 my community of hikers has, for the most part, been banking on the safety in numbers concept.  Basically, never hike alone and you have more hands to help navigate and get you back to safety if something goes sideways. 

So far, for my hike club anyways (wanderung.ca), that has panned out and Search and Rescue has never been needed to my knowledge for what now adds up to thousands of trips. However, it is probably just a matter of time and although safety organizations have often praised how much we do as a non-profit to broadcast educational messaging to novice hikers, we have never felt comfortable with being directly involved with a "trip plan" system.

Everyone gets lost.
Hiking organizations are not paid call-centres and it is hard enough to get people to follow basic guidelines.. so the onus has historically had to be left to those participating to tell someone where they have gone, with whom, and when they are expected back.  We have always pushed that vs. the unrealistic paper-heavy forms which have too many points of failure (in my opinion).  Some of the great safety organizations locally (such as AdventureSmart) have come up with apps and webforms to do a 1 way notification, but I've worked in Operations long enough to know that the expectation to follow-up without systemic prompts is doomed to fail.  The people you send that message to are not going to set a calendar reminder...

With COVID,.. the need is even greater for a working system because organizations, like ours, are pausing their systems to prevent strangers from carpooling and committing the #1 risky activity,.. spending time in a small space together for hours.  The unintended byproduct: more people are hiking in smaller groups,. or worse: alone.

Well, finally I think there is a reasonable solution and full disclosure, I know the architect. A Search and Rescue professional with a background in mapping (Steve Chapman) has teamed up with an app developer to create something at I think will actually work (and I'm pretty darned cynical when it comes to human behaviour).

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OVERDUE is an app with a bulletproof user interface that could not be easier to use.  What it does is allow you to plan your trip (in the app!), then broadcast out to a predefined network or people where you are going, and only when you DON'T report back in, will it give them a ping (from a server, not your device so being out of range or battery is not an issue).
What is more is that in the process of setting up your trip, you enter a number of bits of information that would aid if you needed help:
  • Where are you going? (you can be as brief as a trail name, or map out the whole route)
  • What activity (you didn't think SAR calls were just for hikers did you?  Trail runners are often the least able to help themselves)
  • What car are you in?
  • what are you wearing and what gear have you got with you?
  • Who are you with (and their contact info if you choose to add it).
This kind of thing could help rescue teams immensely, along with the ability to take a photo of your start location (or yourself, a selfie of what you look like that day!).
I personally love that it asks which gear and which of the ten essentials you have so you kind of feel like an idiot (as you should) for not going prepared.

Adding a map route can be as easy as uploading a GPX track from another site or even better,.. you can pull from a library in the app from publications such as 105 Hikes!  You can then use it as a GPS device as part of your navigation resources.

Did I mention the UI? Along with an instructional video, the app blinks on what you need to do next walking even the most technically timid through what is needed. what I also like is that sure,.. you can pull fancy maps from some of the free maps etc. but unlike some backcountry apps, it doesn't feel like you are only using 25% of the features,.. this app has alot in it, but nothing you don't need or that will lead to confusion.

There is a 30 day trial period and $30 for the year if you like it (works on Android AND Apple).
I have never so strongly endorsed a product as this but I feel this one must just save lives and I had a chance to ask the hard questions to Steve and really liked the answers. 
I feel better about participating in an organization that sends people into the back-country and just plain happy for its existence. Every hiker should have this, so do yourself, and search and rescue team wherever you go, a favour and check it out.  It might just save your life.





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