Special Firefighters Rescue Team uses WhatsApp to locate lost people

WhatsApp is being used by the Firefighter’s Special Rescue Mountain Team (GERA) in Madrid to rescue people who are lost in the mountains. The team, belonging to Madrid 112 Firefighters, has been able to locate 6 people during the last two months, asking them to use  WhatsApp app to send their location. Many people is not aware of this app’s capability.

It all started casually a couple of months ago when the firefighters team was searching a person lost in the mountains and they couldn’t find him, explained to me Luis Rincon, GERA’s director. A team member asked him whether he was familiar with WhatsApp. The answer was yes, but the man didin’t  know how to send his location.

“All the emergency team had to do, says Rincón, was to guide him through the app so he was able to tell them where he was. That allowed us to save a lot of time, since the position sent is based on the GPS’s Smartphone and is quite accurate. “

“Once we know where a person is, we can either rescue them, if necessary, or guide them to find the right path”.

Operation Manual

"What we've done, explains Rincón, is a very simple operational manual to help people. We generated two trees, one for iPhone  and one for Android. There are almost ten million people using WhatsApp in Spain, but  most of them do not know how to send their location".

GERA's Firefighters 

"What we do when someone contacts 112 is giving them instructions, so they are capable of using  WhatsApp’s menus to send us their position. Smartphones have a great potential for rescue teams, but people ignore this functionality".

How to send your location

The first requirement is having the GPS on or activate it. “Many times people don’t have the GPS activated to save battery. What we recommend is that people learn at home how to do so, in case they need it”.

"Sending your position is an option WhatsApp offers, but people usually uses the app to chat and ignore this capability. What we have done is create some sheets to explain users how to send their location, depending on the smartphone they have. It is a quick reference guide to tell a person what they need to do to send a message with their position“.

“At the same time, we always try people to waste as little battery as possible".

"Not all menus are the same. What people who is planning to go out in the mountains should do is find out home how to use this capability in case they need it”.

"The person who has been able to take these steps is much easier to locate. Sometimes people do not even know what side of the mountain (Madrid or Segovia) they are. Before using WhasApp, they were asked to look at the smartphone screen and tell us their location, but there were many mistakes. We did not know if the position was accurate of it contained a mistake, that could be from 300 meters to 5 kilometers, depending on the Mobile Network ".

WhatsApp offers the correct position instantaneously

"With WhatsApp this is out of the blue. It gives the correct position with an error of 10 or 15 meters, approximately. "
"We are not the first emergency service to use WhatsApp to locate people”, said Rincon. León's Civil Guard  used WhatsApp last October the to find a woman who was lost with her car.

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