Stop, Look, Listen

Does this sound familiar? That’s what you do when crossing train tracks, or perhaps a busy roadway.

Well, consider applying this concept when you realize that you are in a true outdoor emergency situation. Stop, Look, and Listen!


Unless something in your immediate environment shouts, “Run away!” (flood, avalanche, wildland fire, lightning, etc.), stop and assess your situation. There’s nothing in an otherwise calm environment to prevent you from doing so. Running blindly without purpose only increases your risk of injury; acting impulsively without calm thinking creates bad decisions.

Think for a moment how you got into your current situation. Try to identify what decision, or series of decisions, were made that got you where you are, and avoid making similar mistakes.

Reach back to the events leading up to your situation. How long has it been since things were “okay” (for example, when did you last know you were on the trail, or when were you in contact with your group?). Establish (and preferably write down) your past personal timeline of events up to the present, so you can refer to it later.


Survey your surroundings. Make note of prominent landmarks or terrain features. Mark your present location with rocks, wood, or by other means so you can recognize it again.

Use your map and compass to verify where you are. Get a latitude and longitude with your GPS. Write your present location down so you can refer to it later.

Has it been awhile, and is someone looking for you? You may be able to see them yet they may not be able to see you. Be aware of movementĀ and signals from ground searchers. Look for flashlights or vehicle lights at night.

Watch for aircraft.


Listen for aircraft.

Searchers may use whistles or vehicle horns to attract your attention.

Listen for voices or yells from searchers in the area.

Listen for vehicles or voices from other recreationists in the area who may be unaware of your situation, but may be able to help.