Emergency Contacts: The Most Important People

Learn about what it means to be an Emergency Contact, how to designate one for yourself, and how to make sure these important people are accessible on your most important devices.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Director of Communications
March 22, 2017
Emergency Contacts: The Most Important People
Photo by Kristina Ciari.

Three years ago, my friend Loren died in a skiing accident. A huge February storm rolled through the Pacific Northwest, and a bunch of us took extra days off to go skiing. He and a friend were skiing Crystal in-bounds on a Wednesday when Loren fell into a tree well. He suffocated before he could be rescued.

This experience was both shocking and heartbreaking. One of the worst parts, though, came hours after we were down from the mountain, when we were finally able to call his father to break the news. Loren had a passcode on his phone and we couldn't get in. None of us knew his family or emergency contact information. Only through Facebook and lots of difficult phone calls were we able to get to his dad. No one should have to wait 10 hours to get news like that.

Within The Mountaineers, we are required to fill out a waiver to participate in our courses and activities. This includes a section for you to designate an emergency contact person, which is stored with your member profile. This is important from a legal standpoint and a practical one. If something were to happen on a Mountaineers trip, we need to know who to contact.

To help provide clearer guidance about what it means to be an Emergency Contact, I spoke with Tony Tsuboi, an Everett Branch Climb Leader and member of The Mountaineers Safety Committee. Below he suggests a protocol to follow when defining roles and designating a person to be the central point of contact for the team. Tony outlines the three personas we refer to as an emergency contact, each with different functions:

Personal Emergency Contact

This should be the person notified if you’ve been delayed or involved in an accident. You will often be asked by a trip leader to provide an emergency contact or to verify what’s online. Keep your personal emergency contact up to date. Generally people designate a spouse, family member, or another responsible party who can be in contact with family, friends, and any others with a stake in your well-being.

Before you go out, provide your Personal Emergency Contact with basic trip details, the leader’s cell phone number, and how to contact the Team Emergency Contact if they’re concerned, or have news to relay onto others.

Team Emergency Contact

The Team Emergency Contact is the party’s lifeline. They’re the primary emergency contact and central hub for communication. Some refer to this person as the Team Focal. This person owns the responsibility to escalate if the party is overdue, and they should be provided the full detailed trip plan and team roster. They should be given clear instructions on when to dial 911 or the appropriate party of jurisdiction if the party is overdue. They’ll be the primary hub of communication to the other Personal Emergency Contacts, and/or The Mountaineers Emergency Contact if something goes wrong.

TRIP LEADERS – Designate a responsible person to be the Team Emergency Contact. Be clear and specific with instructions on when to call for help and how. Verify that they understand their responsibilities, and confirm their commitment to be available and responsive to any inbound calls or inquiries from the party or Personal Emergency Contacts. The Team Emergency Contact is your lifeline in the event of overdue delay or incident.

The Mountaineers Emergency LINE

This is a 24-hour hotline to The Mountaineers. If a major incident occurs, the club needs to be notified. If someone goes to the Emergency Room, SAR is dispatched, or a catastrophic incident on a Mountaineers trip occurs, notify The Mountaineers Emergency Line at 206-521-6030.

Note: The Mountaineers Emergency Line is not set up to know if your party is overdue. However, it is manned 24x7. If you call and do not connect with a live person, leave a message with a brief description of the situation and a number to reach you. Someone will return the call within a few minutes. They will be able to provide guidance and next steps if needed.
More detail may be found here.

Make Your Emergency Info Accessible

If you have a cell phone, chances are it comes with a program which allows you to give anyone access to specific information in the case of an emergency. You can enter things like your age, gender, weight, blood type, known medical conditions, and multiple emergency contact phone numbers. This information can be accessed even when the phone is locked.

If you own an iPhone, simply Google “How to set up Medical ID” for instructions. For Androids and Windows Phones, look up “How To set up emergency contact information.” Or, find a detailed guide here.

This article originally appeared in our spring 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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Margot Tsakonas
Margot Tsakonas says:
Mar 23, 2017 04:27 PM

I am sorry for the loss of a good friend.
Of course our Mtrs trip leaders know to download the emergency contact info of the people on their trips. Lately I have mentored a few leads who did not have hard copy of the roster and emergency info with them- thinking they could access the roster on line (via phone) if needed. Since that may or may not be possible -- we can remind new leads to have the hard copy with them, and to leave it with the focal back home. Redundancy is useful in a critical system.

Kristina Ciari
Kristina Ciari says:
Mar 31, 2017 01:43 PM

Thanks for you condolences Margot. And good point - it's important to always have a hard copy of emergency contacts!

David Judish
David Judish says:
Feb 27, 2019 01:17 PM

Important info.

The post seems to suggest that the team emergency contact should be at the center of the action, potentially fielding calls from multiple anxious and distressed emergency contacts in a fast changing and uncertain situation.

Since many team emergency contacts will be spousal equivalents who do not necessarily know much about the activity involved, and don't know anyone on the roster, it seems that emergency management role should best be served by the Mountaineers emergency contact person.

My approach has been to tell the team emergency contact specifically when and how to contact the Mountaineers emergency line if there is no contact from the party, meaning we are overdue.

I presume the designated Mountaineers person on call should be able to take charge from there, including contacting designated emergency contacts of each team member. They should presumably have access to the trip roster, and be able to make judgments as to when to contact each participant's emergency contact.

If I am incorrect in my assumption, I would be interested in hearing back from a club representative.

Tony Tsuboi
Tony Tsuboi says:
Sep 12, 2023 12:29 PM

The Mountaineers Emergency Line is a resource, and the people that would answer can provide guidance on the next steps to take. However, the Mountaineers Emergency Line is not equipped with any details beyond what’s in the system, i.e. the trip destination, trip roster and list of their emergency contacts. What this article is suggesting is that the trip leader designate one person to be the party’s central point of contact. That person will be given specific instruction on when to call for help and how to report the party overdue. They will have the full trip plan, list of group gear, where the vehicles will be parked, etc. Reporting the party overdue is really the last line of defense, and hopefully it never gets to that, but it’s important to have a clear protocol on how to handle that and clear roles and responsibilities as to who will take action. If there is an incident and something that’s going to delay the party, it greatly simplifies things to have one person to contact that can relay to news to others that the party is delayed and not to worry.