Poor cell reception becomes recipe for vacation disaster
SPRINGHILL – Possibly one of the worst camping trips ever is a cautionary tale for Nova Scotians: keep an eye on your cell phone coverage.
© Christopher Gooding
Fate was against David Heffernan's family camping trip. Poor cell phone reception, a couple of hooligans and confusion over which RCMP detachment would respond to his request for assistance saw their weekend getaway ruined. RCMP say poor cellphone service was the real culprit behind Heffernan's experience, while one cellphone provider offers some tips for others in the future.
Springhill’s David Heffernan and his family were seeking something more than an RV park or campground when the Canada Day long weekend approached, and cast their eyes towards the wilderness surrounding Simpson’s Lake near Wyvern.
But some unruly off-roaders turned the placid evening into panic.
“There was a truck tearing up the area,” Heffernan said. “They were down by early, and I get it. Boys having fun. I’ve been there myself.”
The fun ended for the Heffernans, however, as the night wore on and the off-roader started kicking up gravel at the family camper.
“At one point they came within three feet of hitting my trailer,” he said.
Heffernan had reason to believe the operators had been drinking and, with his family’s sense of security on the line, he dialed 911, and found out he had no cell phone reception.
Heffernan and his family had no cellphone reception at their campsite but felt the danger of the off-roaders couldn’t go unreported. Heffernan hiked up the road, with the off-roaders keeping a close eye on him until he could get a signal. When a tower did make contact with his phone, he dialed for help and was connected with dispatch. On the other end, RCMP files record Heffernan’s reception was spotty, at best – and that he was picked up by a tower in Cumberland County.
“Unfortunately, the first hour of no response was because we were tracking them down,” Cpl. Addie MacCallum with the Colchester RCMP explained. “(The file) was originally posted to Pugwash detachment. It’s not uncommon, because of a cellphone call.”
Unfortunately, the Heffernans were just beyond the Cumberland County border and into Colchester County.
“Oxford (detachment) members found out where it was and found out it was in Colchester County and the file was given back,” said MacCallum.
Meanwhile, the Heffernans were ready to pull stakes. It was now after 2 a.m. The off-roaders hadn’t let up and the family felt terrorized.
“I had confronted them and the family wanted to go home,” Heffernan said. “They were upset.”
Heffernan called 911 again from the road and by the time he got home he was in contact with RCMP using his landline.
“I was told they would do a follow up,” Heffernan said. “I don’t know if they actually did.”
July 1st can be law enforcement’s busiest day of the year, MacCallum explained. Add in a long weekend and it's a recipe for tight resources.
“We had quite a few calls, especially some high profiles,” MacCallum said.
When dispatch learned the Heffernans were home safe, a decision was made to follow up on the file later. Heffernan, however, is upset no one could help him when he felt his family needed it the most.
“That was our first trip out camping as a family (in the woods). No more of that foolishness.” David Heffernan
“That was our first trip out camping as a family (in the woods),” Heffernan said. “No more of that foolishness.”
“To be quite honest, it’s usually pretty clear-cut. Somebody’s going to get the file…” MacCallum said. “In this one, obtaining initial information was difficult. Dispatch has to sort through it. In that particular case, there just wasn’t service close enough.”
Exchanging case files between detachments is procedural, MacCallum said, citing the Cobequid Pass as one example and Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in Advocate Harbour as another. Hikers of the Fundy Shore trail system can sometimes have their calls picked up by Annapolis Valley dispatch, leaving it up to the dispatcher to sort through the information to find out which detachment needs to respond.
It takes time, MacCallum said.
Travel Tips from Telus
Bad cellular reception, confusion where the call was coming from and a campsite on the edges of the Cumberland-Colchester county line struck against the Heffernan’s outing when a pair of jerks decided to have some good ol’ boy fun at their expense. A review of Telus’ cell phone coverage – who the Heffernans use – reveals its cell phone tower coverage in Nova Scotia is perhaps the best in the county, but there are pockets of no service, like where the Heffernans were camping.
Jill Yetman, senior communication manager for Telus, explained cell phone technology is “line of sight,” meaning it can’t pass through hills, mountains, or heavy forest areas. But she does have advice to help customers in rural areas in dire need of a signal:
• Look for open, high ground;
• While your cell phone can be an important tool, don’t rely solely on your cell phone as your main emergency resource;
• It is strongly recommended that travellers have a dedicated Global Positioning System device specifically designed for location services when traveling to or through remote areas;
• Take time to fully understand the service coverage from your provider in any area where you intend to travel – most carriers have online maps of service coverage.
A map of Telus’ coverage in Canada can be found at http://businessmobility.telus.com.