OpenStreetMap

Why Search and Rescue Organizations Must Map Out Cellular Phone Towers in OpenStreetMap

Posted by HermannstadtGeographer on 21 July 2016 in English (English)

You are alone and you are in the middle of nowhere – you simply have no clue about what has happened to you in the last few days and you do not know where to go. Fortunately you have your smartphone with you. Even better, you have a offline map based on OpenStreetMap but even so – you are so deep in the woods that the nearest road is dozens of miles away from you. You try to call 911 but there is no signal on your phone.

How can you call 911 if you do not even know where is the nearest cell phone tower? It might seem logical to head out to the nearest road on the map but these forestry roads may not even be usable as some of them are designed to be used temporarily for logging purposes. On the other hand research stations and remote tourist cabins may be nearby and there lies the opportunity to find a cell phone antenna nearby. Needless to say is the fact that your abductor might be following you and regardless of this fact – you need to call 911 as fast as possible.

In a lot of missing persons cases victims who are able to call 911 have a much better chance of being rescued because when they dial 911 their phone can easily get tracked for its location. This is of huge help for search and rescue people as they can narrow the area of search. Moreover, if you have a criminal or abductor that is on your trail it is not wise to head out for the nearest road as he may be waiting for you exactly on that road.

It is far wiser to run away towards the nearest cell phone tower because these towers have ranges that can span for miles (depending on the topography) and even if there are dozens of criminals chasing you when you reach the relative safety area which is the mile wide perimeter in the immediate vicinity of the cell phone tower the chance of being spotted diminishes considerably. More often than not, authorities confuse cases of missing tourists with abduction cases and your primary duty is to take care of yourself and your family.

I wrote this article due to the fact that there are a lot of people that get lost in wooded areas and they are often abducted. Police may eventually find their cell phone and personal belongings but some victims are never found. In some cases police end up finding a phone with 911 dialed but there is a problem – there was no signal in the area and the victim was never found. A considerable number of victims are able to dial 911 yet even so it is often too late. Criminals love to choose victims who are not familiar with the local geography and they love to choose areas where there is no cell phone coverage. A good example of an area that has this element of abduction and lack of cell phone coverage is the highway of tears in British Columbia, Canada. In any case, I have not examined cases from the highway of tears but I believe that there are many lives that can be saved by the OpenStreetMap community if it would ever decide to engage in an extensive mapping effort of this area.

Given the fact that a lot of people go missing in the woods and are found miles away from civilization it would be wise if the OpenStreetMap community would view things from the perspective of the abduction victim. It is absolutely fantastic that we can go online and download open source maps that do not require an internet connection but it would be a lot wiser if we would map the cell phone towers that are positioned in the most remote areas of our planet.

I will not go into the horrific details that many abduction victims have to withstand but I would like to emphasize the fact that we need to use maps as tools that can save lives. We have done this for a long time already but our current technology is not advanced enough to track absolutely anything on the planet. Moreover, what can one do if a hacker has access to personal details and uses MSISDN pinging in order to track down the victim and get ahead of the search and rescue people? In some cases, the evidence may even suggest the fact that abductors and hackers work together in order to track down their victims. There is one particular case that I do not want to ignore in this article and that is the case of Megumi Yamamoto.

                                        The Bizarre Case of Megumi Yamamoto 

The case of Megumi Yamamoto is so strange and if you consider the fact that there are thousands of cases just like hers you will understand why we need to put more emphasis on safety when we design our maps. I would like to explain her case because her particular case is extremely strange and it goes to prove again that it is always wise to have smart solutions in order to be safe.

The case of Megumi Yamamoto is so horrific that it clearly proves that some of the forces of evil are so weird that they are literally out of this planet. I encourage all of you to study the case of her dissapearance and you should also study a lot more cases related to missing people. You will eventually realize that by mapping out our cell phone towers, we can at least bring in a small contribution that can save thousands of lives.

Megumi Yamamoto was an extremely bright 26 year old PhD student that came on a scholarship to study nanotechnology at New Mexico University. The case of her death is just one of the dozens of deaths of extremely bright students and the technical details of her disappearance are absolutely remarkable. Megumi was out hiking and she got separated from her boyfriend in the Lake Katherine area of Pecos Wilderness Area.

A private investigator has stated that she has called 911 for 9 times and when she called the 10th time her number was finally routed to the real emergency line because when you dial 911 there is also a non emergency line available. It is also interesting to point out the fact that cell phone triangulation has been introduced for well over a year and Greg Solano who was the Santa Fe County Sheriff of the time has stated that the incident of cell phone routing in the case of Megumi was strange to say the least. For some bizarre reason her number continued to get routed to the non emergency line. This is a fact that can simply not be explain in logical terms.

Moreover, when the helicopter had finally spotted her she was in an obvious state of shock but as soon as the helicopter took off a severe storm has started and Megumi along with the helicopter pilot have died when the helicopter has crashed off the side of a nearby mountain. During that day, the wind was so powerful that it could literally throw people in the air. Megumi was fortunate enough to get into the helicopter but unfortunate because the helicopter has crashed and she has lost her life as a result.

In any case, just imagine for a second – how can you survive alone in the woods if such a storm starts out of nowhere in the middle of the summer? How can you even call 911 if the nearest cell phone tower is 10 miles away yet you do not even know where it is and you are simply guessing your way out of the woods (not a bright thing to do considering all the evil things that are taking place in the woods, not to mention wild animals and other dangers).

The pilot of the helicopter was Andy Tingwell and he was type of guy that had a great personality when it came to search and rescue. Just before he crashed his helicopter, he was however fortunate enough to send a signal across those mountains as even search and rescue crews have a huge difficulty when it comes to sending radio signals over that type of terrain.

After this incident new laws have been passed regarding the use of helicopters in search and rescue operations. These new set of laws emphasize the fact that the victim must wait for a longer period of time until search and rescue crews are able to reach them by foot. This implies the concept of self reliance yet again and there is a clear tendency to develop tools that are meant to help the victim to be self sufficient until help arrives on foot. One great tool would be a map with the nearest shelters and communications facilities.

Finally, I would like to briefly describe another absolutely horrific case that went out in the woods and this case clearly proves that the victims have tried to call 911 and they simply had no signal in the area in which they were lost. I would like all of you to keep in mind that this case is similar to other cases and I want you to remember that it would be really wise if we would develop more mapping tools that can save lives. If nothing inspires us to develop these tools than I am absolutely sure that the cases of missing people are enough to not only inspire us to develop these great maps but also to make them popular.

                            The Horrific Story of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon 

Kris Kremes and Lisanne Froon went on a trip to Panama because they wanted to learn Spanish. Since then, nothing has emerged in regards to these two beautiful and young Dutch girls. Many speculate that they were abducted and up until now police were only able to recover part of their bones.

Police have managed to recover one of the cell phones that belonged to the girls and they have noticed that one of the girls took a picture just two hours before calling 911. The shocking fact is that one of these girls has tried to dial 911 but they were in an area where there was no signal. As shocking as it may be, these two girls were just another victim of the no signal phenomenon and it is absolutely surprising to realize that a large number of missing people that have never been found have tried to dial 911 only to realize that they were in an area where there was no signal.

A lot of experienced hikers know that it is absolutely vital to bring in a local guide when you decide to hike in another country. These two girls did not do that and they went on their own. This was not a wise decision however the fact that they have tried to dial 911 is there to testify that something went terribly wrong. Many people speculate that one of the girls must of fallen down a cliff and the other one must have tried to help her and in a surprising twist of fate, both of them must of fallen down and must of gotten injured, other people speculate that they may have been abducted and killed.

I do not like to come up with theories in regards to missing people but I would like to emphasize the fact that if these girls had a offline map with the nearest cell phone towers drawn on the map, they might have lived because all they had to do was to follow the map and head out to the nearest tower in order to dial an emergency number. However they have frantically gone away in the jungle, heading out in areas where there was no signal, only to vanish forever and this is the fact that must never be ignored by fellow cartographers. We need to design apps that can prevent such incidents and now is the time. With tools such as OpenStreetMap and OpencellID nothing can stop us from mapping out cell phone towers and thus we can save lives.

I will not go in many more details about missing people but from my experience, I believe that if people knew where was the nearest area from where they would be able to dial 911, they could have been saved. A lot of extremely smart people go missing and I believe that these people are smart enough to install a free app that is created in order to provide extra safety for them and their families.

I hope that this article will inspire developers who design maps for search and rescue organizations and for tourists as well. We need to map out our telecom towers and we need to have a clear and detailed map of the nearest life saving establishments that are there in the mountains and forests. If we fail to do so we will only witness the statistics and the growing number of missing people in our natural parks and forests.

I would like to end this article with one last advice.Whenever you go out in the wilderness, always go in pairs and you need to stay within shouting distance. You should always carry a smartphone with a offline map and you should always carry a weapon for your personal safety. Far too many people go missing each year and prevention is the best safety measure that you can have in any sort of life threatening situation.

Comment from Warin61 on 21 July 2016 at 22:37

Country and area specific.

For international use 112 is the emergency number for cell phones.. should even work in the states!

Things other than cell phones should be considered for remote emergency use - satellite phones, EPIRBS (or PLBs), SPOT etc.

In some places water is much more important than a weapon.

.

Comment from Warin61 on 21 July 2016 at 22:47

Oh, cell phone coverage in Australia is claimed to cover over 90% …of the population. This is less than 10% of the area. Reliance on cell phones for emergencies … no. You want something simple, that works anywhere and is reliable. A paper map, a compass work without batteries. An EPIRB/PLB are serviceable for many years and work most places (need a view of the sky).

Comment from Carnildo on 21 July 2016 at 23:09

People who get lost in the woods are almost never abducted. They twist an ankle, or run out of water, or eat the wrong berries, or come off second-best in a struggle with an insane squirrel, but abduction? Almost never happens.

Comment from HermannstadtGeographer on 21 July 2016 at 23:28

I agree, but there are a lot of cases where authorities have absolutely no idea if the victims were abducted or they were lost. In the case of Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers they even brought in F16s to analyze slight changes in the surface of the Earth that may indicate a recent burial site, however it is very important to keep in mind that nobody wants to deal with these cases because they are extremely expensive and regarding SPOT devices - they are simply expensive and the occasional hiker does not even use such a device most of the time. People just want something that is really not that expensive. There is a very small minority of people that use a GPS or a SPOT device but the fact is that we already have the GPS in our phone so everybody relies on their phone maps most of the time anyway.

I am not arguing that reliance on the cell phone is great but for a lot of people there is no option left. If you ever have the chance to talk to people who work in search and rescue you will soon know that a phone is absolutely critical, even if you are in the middle of nowhere. I am not saying that it is abduction, it is just strange. What I am trying to say in this article is that there is a clear tendency to have more security options embedded into our smartphones and we definitely need to work together in order to do whatever we can in order to provide some extra safety for people that have accidents because accidents happen and when they happen in the woods, things can go very very wrong.

Comment from BushmanK on 22 July 2016 at 16:21

Reasoning in this diary entry is demagogic and often - false. Anecdotal evidence (someone’s “scary story”) as well as its sensationalism are another two bad things.

If you trying to convince people to do something good, please, for the sake of common sense, try to avoid discrediting the whole idea by using this kind of reasoning.

There are several other projects, dedicated to cell tower mapping, and there is no sense in trying to do what they already doing in one more project.

Comment from Piskvor on 25 July 2016 at 08:50

If lost, specifically hunting for BTS (and thus cellphone signal) can actually kill you. Case in point: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36389383 - hiker went up, up, up, figuring there must be cellphone signal somewhere.

Comment from HermannstadtGeographer on 25 July 2016 at 10:40

Piskvor thanks for sharing this amazing story.

Comment from richlv on 31 July 2016 at 21:32

“must of tried” -> “must have tried”; “might of lived” -> “might have lived” “could of been saved” -> “could have been saved”

Comment from HermannstadtGeographer on 31 July 2016 at 22:30

richlv Thank you very much. English is not my native language.

Comment from Devolved on 6 August 2016 at 23:35

this data is already existing, and open source. just make a layer or whatever, i’m new. http://opencellid.org/ and others are available

Comment from dieterdreist on 8 August 2016 at 15:28

These stories sound like those sensational tv “documentaries” the US is selling worldwide. Typical fud. If you really need phone coverage in the middle of nowhere you should have a look at satellite phones. With any modern smartphone you hardly can get a day of operation (batterywise), a good paper map(s) should be one of the things you bring on your expedition into the remote areas, a good tent and enough water supplies are also helpful.

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