Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .

Recent missing hiker stories compelled me to do some research on how I could better prepare my family and friends should I become MIA. This is what I’ve done to hopefully be found sooner than later. 

Dear Friends & Family,

When you don’t receive two InReach checkin messages from me (usually about 12 hours apart), these are the steps to take.

1. Do a little detective work

Call my cell phone, send a locate and text message to my InReach, check my InReach map, check my facebook postings, check my google timeline, post an inquiry to my private tracking page, message me on my facebook. Search for my phone (use Google Android Tracking Manager).

If no response nor additional checkins after another 12 hours (therefore missed a total of 3-4 checkins), it’s time to get the authorities involved. Yes, there’s a chance that my InReach is broken or lost, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. My consistent checkins will help authorities understand your concerns.

2. Contact law enforcement

Who to contact? Authorities in the county, city or national park from which I last had an InReach checkin (most likely a sheriff’s department). (TIP: You can start with a 911 call and dispatchers should transfer you to the applicable jurisdiction.)

What to say? You want to file a missing persons report (there is NO waiting period to file a report).

Details you’ll need for the report (TIP: Provide your emergency contact or support team a USB drive with the following):

√ Nicknames or aliases used by the person (include trail name if applicable)

√ Address and phone number (include cell carrier so phone can be pinged)

√ Physical description, including height, weight, age, hair color, eye color, build, etc. (TIP: include copy of your driver’s license and a current photo.)

√ Description of the clothing and shoes the person was last seen wearing, include size, color and brand if known (TIP: include photos of you wearing your various layers of clothing, including hat, sunglasses, pack, shoes, etc., plus your shoe tread and print.)

√ List of possessions the person might be carrying, with name/color/model of items such as backpack and tent (TIP: include photos of your pack, tent, sleeping bag, contents of resupply box, etc.)

√ List of scars, tattoos, and other identifying characteristics (TIP: include photos)

√ List of medications the person was taking, as well as allergies, handicaps, and other medical conditions (TIP: include photo of insurance card and doctor names)

√ List of relatives or friends of the missing person, along with contact information

√ List of places the person has been recently (TIP: include your trip itinerary. ReConn Trip Record provides a detailed form. Also a link to your SPOT or InReach map if applicable)

√ Description of the person’s car with license plate, make, model, color anything unique (if applicable) (TIP: include photos)

√ Description of the situation surrounding the person’s disappearance (TIP: discuss any weather, terrain, medical condition concerns)

Keep a record of the report. Make sure you obtain a case number for your missing person’s report. Write down the name of the person in charge of your case.

3. Push officials for Search & Rescue (SAR) help. You are my advocate and need to be the squeaky wheel. Stay in contact with assigned authority. Ask them to check on any recent phone activity.

4. Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The US Department of Justice operates this system. NamUs lets you upload information about a missing person for use by law enforcement officials, agencies, and individuals. The site helps missing persons cases wrap up sooner by providing this information to the public.

5. Things you can do behind the scenes while officials are doing their thing.

√ Contact Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation. Their mission is to help find with the process of finding missing hikers.

√ Create a facebook group with the specific purpose of collecting and dispersing details in one place. Some have suggested Reddit is a better option.

√ Create a document/spreadsheet to help keep track of and coordinate activities.

√ Spread the word:

√ Create a post to my facebook asking if anyone has seen or heard from me and link it to a new group page asking friends to share to their page and hiker groups etc.

√ Create a flier with and have it posted at nearby trailheads, towns, roads, etc. Post the flier on the new facebook group page to be shared among social media including Instagram using most popular hash tags. The flier should include recent photos, contact number for authorities, link to facebook group page, date missing, last known location, etc.

√ Contact nearby forest service offices, ranger stations, national parks, BLM, fish and game, etc.

√ Contact nearby hospitals and coroners office.

√ Contact media (TV, newspaper, radio, etc).

√ Contact local hiking, equestrian, ATV and hunting/fishing groups.

√ Solicit search assistance (coordinate with authorities and/or SAR).

6. Stay optimistic, I’m a survivor!

I’ll do my very best to prevent you from ever needing this information. Just in case, THANK YOU for doing your very best to help find me.

♥ Jan ♥


  • Dedicated Web or Facebook Page:

I created a private facebook page several years ago to help with the process. I post my itinerary and include a link to my InReach map. There’s also a file which includes my emergency contacts, medical information, cell phone provider, credit card info and the “what to do if” page. Photos of me, my gear, shoes, shoe tread, vehicle, license plate, typical resupply box and contents, etc. are on in a shared google album.

  • Emergency Device:

I carry an InReach because I like the signal confirmation it provides as well as the capability of two-way texting. I subscribe to the lowest level plan which is about $12/month. With that I send out a checkin each morning and evening I’m on trail, plus I send a map checkin whenever I transition between trails or go off-trail as well as when I leave and return to my vehicle. I also use it for weather updates and urgent communication. On the home screen it includes my phone # as well that of an emergency contact.

I strongly encourage carrying a device, especially when hiking solo, whether it be a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or a satellite communicator such as the InReach or SPOT devices.

  • Identification:

Keep your ID readily available for those cases when you can’t speak for yourself. I was involved in an accident where I was in shock and couldn’t answer any of the basic questions. After that I created a sheet I carry with me which has all the important information like name, address, medical history and allergies, emergency contacts, medical insurance, etc. Another option is Road ID.

  • Emergency Contacts:

Keep your phone updated with ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts. Many phones have that as a special designation so others can access without needing your locked pad code.

  • Password List:

Consider having your list available to at least one of your emergency contacts. I have mine in my Safety Deposit Box.

  • Preferences:

Notify your family and friends of your preferences. Some hikers don’t want a search activated. Be sure everyone knows so SAR resources are not wasted and families stressed unnecessarily. If you are interested in rescue, how soon do you want to be reported missing? I have mine set to 24 hours, which most likely means SAR will not be activated for another 24-48 hours.

  • Hiker Ethics:
    • Be a responsible hiker
    • Carry the 10 essentials (and know how to use them)
    • Designate emergency contact or support team and provide them with your itinerary, etc.
    • Consider taking the Wilderness First Aid course

Real World Experience

On 7/25/18, I had to push the SOS. I was thankful I had the inReach, I’d set it up with emergency contacts, and I had my medical/emergency information list with me. It was such a time saver and stress reducer to hand the paper to first responders and hospital staff. Here’s the link to my story: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

Resource Links:

If you have other thoughts, please comment so I can update my post. Special thanks to all my angels who keep an electronic eye on me. I appreciate being held accountable and knowing that I have friends who CARE!

43 thoughts on “Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .

  1. Excellent thoughts on preparations for such circumstances. I think about the same sorts of things when out there alone and the snow starts to fall and all the lava rocks and pines start looking alike, and there is no particular trail or terrain features to navigate by as it gets dark.

    Best of all is to be careful of course. In some ways, as you mentioned, electronics are very helpful and reassuring, but electronic devices can fail to work, and should not be fully relied upon. GPS and flashlights are notwithstanding. I might suggest also practicing what to do without such aids under various conditions.

    Forest Service and sheriff folks say they wait a minimum of three days before searching after someone is noticed to be ‘missing’ because they have so many false reports. Responses of other agencies may vary in any situation. That time frame may give some idea of just how careful and skilled we need to be out there. Then it may take an additional amount of time for parties to become organized and mobilized. Volunteer search and rescue teams, such as at Lassen Volcanic National Park, are perhaps the gold standard for back-country searches. Local off-highway vehicle clubs can cover an area perimeter well. The subject of the search is often more comfortable than the searchers.

    If possible, before going too far away from a group or popular trail, find those rare persons who have real talent – for Finding People and Things and getting to them with the abilities that are irreplaceable – who will do searches for fun.

    • I implied but maybe I’ll be more specific. I’ve actually created a shared photo album on google with these details for my first responders. Thanks for the feedback.

  2. I would also add Cell phone provider for authorization to ping and obtain the most recent phone activity. Also Bank information for activity of ATM or bank activity.

  3. Thanks for this great post! I have an itinerary form that I fill out and leave at home for overnight trips. It includes where I am going, with the trailhead and planned destinations indicated, which agency to contact in case of emergency, other people in the group and cell numbers for all of us, car license plate numbers, etc. I also have everyone on the trip fill out a form with emergency contact and medical info, just in case we need it for search and rescue.

    • Those precautions are the best and preferred method. This is really for people who don’t plan in advance or are on long trails. I leave a loose itinerary but like to have the freedom to choose as I go. I was away from home 173 days this year so having a safety net like this is vital for me.

  4. Hey Jan, not sure if you mentioned it, but if you’re driving and leaving your car at a TH, I always leave a note (taped to my BACK window, so basically facing OUT to the parking lot) that says when I plan to return. I write the date in HUGE letters and numbers (in addition to any permits that may be placed in my window because those permits are just so small and no one really looks very carefully at them, until it’s too late). I also include contact info for the person closest to me that has the calmest disposition, knows my itinerary beforehand, and knows best how to initiate search proceedings with the proper authorities – all these things have been discussed with said person before any solo trip I take. I also leave a back-up number for another person, just in case.

  5. Absolutely excellent Jan! I always have a wrist band called Road ID on my arm that gives my name, allergies and phone numbers in case of emergency. Its only 20 dollars and was invented for bikers who often are unconscious when found (as you know having been a bicyclist yourself) after accidents.

  6. I must respectfully disagree with having your friends or family notify authorities if you miss two check-ins with your InReach. I also carry the Delorme InReach on my long solo treks on the Great Divide Trail, and have given this a lot of thought. By far the most likely thing that has happened when you haven’t checked in is that you lost the device when it fell out of your pack or that it’s out of batteries because you left it on too long. What happens if you lose or break your InReach on day 2 of a week long trek? Will you back-track to your car so that you can call off a “rescue” that might already have begun? That sounds horrible.
    The primary purpose of the InReach is to call for your own SAR by pressing the SOS button if you actually do get into a pickle. I also send out occasional position updates – perhaps four per day – that way if I don’t show up at a trailhead on time SAR will have a better idea where to begin looking.
    What I always tell my stay-at-home husband while I’m on my hikes is the exact day and time that he can expect me to call him from civilization on my cell phone.  If he hasn’t received a notification from the Delorme within 24 hours of that time, then – and only then – is he to get authorities involved. Should that happen, he has my last known position and a gpx track detailing my intended route.
    I take my personal safety very seriously which is why I carry the InReach – but I also take the safety of potential rescuers into consideration  too and having put both on a scale, I think it’s the best plan to assume that I’m fine unless I fail to get to the trailhead at the expected time.
    Now I know that some hikers will say, “well, what-if I’m unconscious?” To that I would say that if you are really concerned about being so incapacitated that you can’t call for your own rescue (by simply pushing a button), then you really should be hiking with another person. If you are solo, you must accept additional risk – it shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of friends, family, and rescuers.

    • I understand completely and tossed about various options. When I spoke with SAR they recommended this option based on my behavior which is to checkin every night, every morning and frequently once or twice during the day. My instructions are to notify authorities after 24 hours. Most likely it’ll be another 2-3 days before SAR is actually dispatched. In most cases by then if I’m fine, I’ll make it somewhere I can use cell and call off SAR.

  7. Great article, Jan! You’ve been a role model for me in this.

    Can you add a bit more about who you choose to be your emergency contacts? I find this difficult since I don’t always have a roommate and for when my parents are traveling.

    Here are some more things that I’ve found out while making my own plans…

    Another tip for setting up your emergency plan:

    Call your local non-emergency number and ask them about what happens for missing hikers in your local area. I found out a lot of valuable tips about who and when to call. In my area (around Glacier National Park) they don’t have to wait 3 days— they want to know right away if someone is missing.

    For example, when a friend didn’t show up one night, they were notified the next morning and sent out helicopters that day to pull her off the mountain (which likely saved her life since she’d had a serious accident and couldn’t hike out).

    Overnight/ weekend trips:

    Specify a shorter no-check-in wait time for shorter trips or those that involve more risk (bushwhacking/ weather hazards). I always call/ text my emergency contact right when I get back from a weekend trip. If they don’t hear from me before 9 PM (and I think I will be back by 5 PM), I want them to call the authorities that night. I carry an InReach and have definite hiking plans to return in a given amount of time, and if I haven’t returned, then something is definitely wrong.

    Take a wilderness first responder class:

    The ten day course is definitely worthwhile compared to the two-day wilderness first aid. All sorts of simulations and scenarios. Better to think it all through in a class than when you are in your first real emergency.

    Finally, have your emergency plan reviewed by someone who is experienced in search and rescue. This helped me a lot and gave me extra things to think about to provide for the safety of the rescuers.

    • These are great additional tips! Thanks for sharing.

      As for the emergency contacts, I too had a difficult time so I created my Angel Network. It includes friends and family from a variety of geographic locations I might travel through as well as with different skills and resources. I use this group for my accountability. The people I have on my ICE are ones who usually always have their cell phones with them and who rarely travel. They can post to my Angel Network page if something happens.

      I appreciate people like you who value having an emergency plan and being prepared for solo travel in the wilderness. We definitely take our wellness seriously, and are sensitive to those who worry about us.

  8. Pingback: Thanksgiving . . . a day for giving thanks – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  9. Pingback: Me and My CRV – Safety, Security, Self Reliance – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  10. Pingback: PCT Prep – The Plan – Organized Chaos – Wanderlust Travel Nurse

  11. Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information. Trying to work up the courage to solo. Don’t know if I’ll get there, but all this stuff helps!

  12. Pingback: 2017 – Where Did Jan Jaunt? – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  13. How many of the 10,000 PCT hikers starting out this year can actually pass a Land Navigation course if tested? How many of those PCT hikers have any survival training or experience in any way? Relying on an inreach to keep you safe is shunning your own responsibilities as a responsible Wilderness Traveler. Be prepared and don’t put your family and friends in that position in the first place.

    • Sadly it’s more true than optimal but this was written for more than just PCT hikers. I wasn’t saying you should rely on InReach, but accidents DO and WILL happen. I for one want to be found IF and WHEN that should happen.

  14. Pingback: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  15. Pingback: 2018 – Where Did Jan Jaunt? – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  16. Pingback: 2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Navigation and Planning – Jan's Jaunts and Jabberings

  17. Pingback: In Case of Emergency – every day's just like starting over

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Broken Links? I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s