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Even with the best of preparations a wonderful days outing can turn into a life threatening crisis. The best way to prepare for something like this is to learn how to survive in different types of situations. Another important thing to learn before taking off in the wilderness is the correct way to signal for help. Knowing these simple symbols and methods can tell a rescuer what you need most to stay alive in an emergency.
The first thing to remember is that the universal distress signal for any type of emergency is three of anything. Three fires, three shrill whistles, three flares or even three gunshots. The sound of a whistle carries further, is safer and clearer than most of the other signals. The human voice will work in an emergency where nothing else is available, but remember to do this at intervals and wait for an answer. The answer should come in the form of two answering calls, whistles, flares or such. If you are using fire as your signal, be sure to lay the fires out in a safely cleared area. They should be built tepee style and you should wait to light them until you hear a plane, all terrain vehicle or person approaching. To make the fires smoke so they will be notice use some green wood, wet leaves or grass on them after they are lit. At night you should use dry wood to make the flames as bright as possible. You can also put out markers that can signal for help or tell what your needs are.
A huge I made out of rock will signal that you or someone in your party has a serious injury and needs a doctor. The roman numeral style II signals a need for medical supplies. An X signals that you are unable to proceed. An F lets rescuers know you need food and water. An O signals that you need a map and compass. An arrow pointing in any direction signals that you are proceeding in that direction. Two L's signal that all is well. An N means no, while a Y means yes. Two L's facing in opposite directions signals that instructions were not understood. A triangle signals that it possibly not safe to land an aircraft in the area. A backwards K signals that you are asking which way to go. All the letters and symbols should be laid out in a wide open area so that anyone passing above can easily read them.
Another very effective way of signaling is with a mirror. If you do not have a mirror any shiny piece of metal will do. A large belt buckle, shiny metal canteen or pans will work for this purpose. Catch the sun with the metal and flash at any airplane, no matter how high it is flying. You can also flash toward different points on each horizon. This will sometimes catch the eye of other hikers or campers. If you find yourself stranded in the snow you can tramp trenches into the snow to make your signals or words. Fill the trenches with bark, dead leaves, tree branches or anything dark that will make the trenched words or symbols stand out in contrast to the white back ground. In fact, the use of brightly colored strips of material has cause the successful rescue of many. The most important thing to remember is to always tell a Park Ranger or someone you can trust to look for you if you do not return on time and do not panic if you get lost. A clear head is the best life saver of all.