Please note, for your and your team’s safety:
if you plan an outdoor adventure in the mountains of Italy, you need to know what follows !
SAR (Search and Rescue) operations in the mountains of Italy (Alps and Apennines, plus Sicily) are performed by several organizations, under the coordination of the CNSAS (Alpine and Caving National Rescue Corps). The latter is a section of CAI (Italian Alpine Club).
To ask for rescue, call the number 112 which is valid in many EU countries including Italy. The 118 is the general medical rescue number and should work as well but we suggest to use 112 first, because:
– some mobile phone, by digiting 112, may automatically switch to the network offering the best connection;
– with some mobile phone, by using 112, the call center may be able to detect your position (this feature depends on the mobile phone and the local communication protocols – it shoud be guaranteed in the near future).
Due to network protocols, in some regions of Italy the 112 may not work; in that case, use 118. (Sooner or later all regions of Italu should adopt the 112 as emergency number, as per EU regulations).
By calling 112 or 118, you will be connected to an operator who, according to the information provided by you, will decide how to arrange for the rescue and which organization to activate on a local basis.
The CNSAS performs an average of 10,000 operations per year, , utilizing more than 40,000 operators, most of them volounteers. They have at disposal approximately 250 local stations for mountain rescue and 30 stations specialized in caving.
Other organizations, who may directly carry out an operation on site, are:
– Esercito (Army), with the units of the Carabinieri and the Alpini;
– Aeronautica Militare (Military Aviation);
– Guardia di Finanza (Border Police) which now incorporates the rescue staff of the Corpo Forestale (Forest Service);
– local units of Vigili del Fuoco (Fire Brigades);
– local units of Croce Rossa (Red Cross) and other ambulance services;
– local volountary organizations such as the Aiut Alpin Dolomiti (active in the region of Alto Adige / South Tyrol).
All these organizations together make available the personnel needed for the operations (call operators, physicians, nurses, rescue technicians, pilots, drivers, …) and all the resources such as vehicles, ambulances, helicopters, avalanche dogs, medical equipment, etc.
The personnel is highly qualified and trained. The training as well as the operation protocols are mostly shared and coordinated at international level, through the ICAR (International Commission for Alpine Rescue).
First, you need to have a mobile phone (with enough battery capacity) and a network coverage.
After being connected to the call center operator, just tell him/her “i am in […area, location] and need help because […short description of the situation, no details].
You should agree on which language to use for the communication.
Do not say more. Just answer the operator’s questions, and be prepared to provide the following information (the exact sequence may vary according to the emergency protocol in use):
If the operator decides that the intervention of an helicopter is needed, he/she will ask you some extra information such as visibility, wind conditions, possible obstacles as suspended cables, etc.
Do not interrupt the operator. Just answer his/her questions.
If the rescue organization sends you an helicopter, there are precise guidelines to follow on how to communicate with the pilot and how to behave in presence of the helicopter. This is beyond the scope of this document. For information on this issue, you may for example consult the recommendations of CNSAS.
Try to send an SMS, the phone will make several attempts till the connection is found. We suggest you send the message to a friend or relative, whom you know for sure to be available, writing (max. 160 digits) ; “i am in […area, location] and need help because […short description of the situation, no details], please call 112 for rescue and ask them to call my phone”.
Alternatively, you may use Whatsapp, by which you can also send your position.
Firstly it is suggested to check the mobile network coverage prior to starting your tour. In Italy, mountain areas are covered as long as you are close to small villages and at ski resorts of course, other than that, there is no coverage !
In case of scarse coverage, move to a nearby position as to possible get the signal. Sometimes is sufficient to move a few hundred meters and/or reach a position more elevated with no obstacles around.
If the above fails, you may decide to send one of the group down to valley in search of the phone coverage, and at the same time launch some visual signals with rockets (if you have any !) or torch (at night).
However all this is beyond the scope of this document; we suggest you to consult a specific tutorial about emergency management.
Having available a sat phone is the best option for managing communications in an emergency. All sat phones work all over the territory of Italy, as long as you have even a small portion of sky above you to catch a few satellites. You can also send and receive text messages.
The most recent sat phones allow you to send your GPS position coordinates along with your call or message.
But beware ! Some sat phones cannot connect directly with short coded numbers such as 112 and 118; in such cases you must use the extended number of the local SAR center. To find these you need (at your planning phase, before leaving for your adventure!) to google “soccorso alpino [location]” and get the number of the local station. As [location] we suggest to enter the name of the municipality.
Some few regions in Italy do have an extended regional SAR number (see below, as of nov 2020):
|349.1860842 – 349.3008773
Please note that the first 3 or 4 digits are the local prefix.
Beware: consult the internet and make sure to get the numbers currently valid !
There are many apps available which allow you to call a service center who will take care of activating the local SAR organization. By making the call, your profile data (personal data, contacts, etc.) are sent to the operator and your current GPS coordinates as well (the phone’s GPS should be automatically activated by the call). It may also be available a tracking function. These services are normally available against the payment of an annual fee.
In Italy, the most utilized apps are WhereAreU-112 (free of charge, connections to the national 112 service center – as mentioned before not working in some regions) and GeoResq (direct connection to the CNSAS service center).
However, these systems work if you have the coverage of a mobile phone network. Failing this, you would need a sat phone or a sat emergency beacon (see further on).
These tools, such as the Spot or the Garmin InReach, have a total coverage of the territory by satelllites and an extremely long battery life. They can send a rescue request signal to an international service center along with your GPS coordinates. The service center takes care of getting in contact with the “best” local rescue organization. This services are available against an annual fee.
A tracking function is also available, so that your progression on site can be monitored by a friend who connects to the app.
After the distress signal is sent, any further communications are only via text messages, which is a severe limitation, to our opinion. In fact, for emergency purposes, the voice communication by satellite phone is far more effective.
For more details on this topic, please refer to the many tutorials available on the internet, or consult the beacon manufacturer’s website.
Recco is a small reflector plate, often incorporated in the jacket or helmet for example, which reflects the radar signals sent by a dedicated transmitter unit on board of a rescue helicopter. Therefore, it helps a SAR team by helicopter to locate your position even when the area to be scanned is large.
The system is available in all major ski resorts of Italy, but not elsewhere.
It should be considered only as an extra tool to support the SAR operations; obviously it is by no way a rescue request system.
Some insurance companies, or directly some international rescue organizations, offer a SAR service to their clients. If you have subscribed to one of these insurance policies, you should strictly follow their procedures in case of an emergency. (Failing this, you risk loosing all or part of the insurance coverage).
Generally, you have to call a service center who will take care of organizing the rescue, either by utilizing their own staff and resources, or by activating the local mountain rescue station.
To cite two, GlobalRescue (USA) generally offers a good assistance also in Europe; the Rega of Switzerland covers the whole Alps whith its own helicopters and staff and is also availabe to non-swiss residents.
However the topic of insurances is not in the scope of this document, we therefore recommend to read a specific tutorial or consult the insurance companies’ websites.
If you are not a resident of Italy, by default the cost of the intervention of the SAR organization will be charged to you or to your insurance provider.
However, if you are a member of a mountaineering association which has a specific agreement with CAI (Italian Alpine Club), then the intervention (only if perfomed or managed by the CNSAS) will not be charged to you.
In any case we suggest you to contact your mountan association and/or insurance provider for more details.