Ensuring effective means of communication, within crews of field researchers and between field researchers and the “outside world”, is an important part of safety planning for field activities and is also a legal requirement under Alberta’s “Working Alone” legislation. Researchers must devise a communications plan to be implemented in case of an emergency, identifying the means of communication and the time required to implement it. It is important to study your location well and determine viable options for communication.

UAlberta's Environment, Health & Safety has developed an Emergency Response Process for Field Work. This is a flowchart that allows you to determine what communication device you should use in the field. 

Staying in touch with your team

Provide each member of your team with adequate communication device(s) for communication with each other and appropriate training on how to use these devices. Faculty members may cover the cost of cell or satellite phone purchase, rental, time charges and long distance charges from their Professional Expense Allowance; when filing the Professional Expense Reimbursement (PER) claim they must attach a letter from the department stating the need for the device. Standard Operating Procedures for communication should be prepared in advance and read by all team members prior to departure. Establish and practice a check-in procedure (frequency of checks should be based on the working conditions and hazards).

As part of your Field Activities Plan, assessing and mitigation of risks involved in your field project, you should be looking at what communication devices you need.  This will depend upon location and cell phone coverage.  If you are working in remote locations, a satellite phone may be required.  FRO has a pool of Iridium satellite phones available for researchers to rent.  Please see the FRO Satellite Phone page for more information. 

Some people who are working alone are using GPS messenger devices, such as Find Me Spot (GlobalStar Satellite Systems). This device nor the SPOT Connect is not a two-way communication device.  DeLorme's inReach GPS Communicator is a two-way device but as with the SPOT, it is only a texting device (no voice communications). Caution is advised when using these devices to ensure that they will work at your location and in the circumstances of an emergency. Each field situation should be evaluated for its need.  Researchers have reported that when combined with a satellite phone, the GPS messenger devices work well.  The GPS messengers have the ability to provide your exact coordinates to the emergency medical personnel.  

Staying in touch with the outside

Have appropriate communication devices to ensure you are able to contact someone at (or have someone relay a message to) the U of A. Have every member of the team inform a family member or friend when they intend to return from the field. Inform a contact person in your department of the location of the field research, the means to contact the field personnel, and the intended return date.

You can also register with the University's online travel registration system, UGo.  Registration does not take long and automated messages to department contacts are generated letting them know of your departure and return dates. Also, your travel information is available 24 hours to Protective Services should there be a emergency in the area of your travel and notification to your emergency contacts be necessary.  It is a free service that is offered and all, academics and students, are advised to utilize this great system.

Being able to call for help

Have appropriate communication devices with you so that your team members can call for help, if necessary. Prepare an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that includes contact information for the nearest emergency assistance (e.g., 911 or another emergency number) and the location and phone numbers of police, fire, and medical facilities or wildfire contact number in Crown land areas); make sure all team members understand the ERP and know how to contact help in case of an emergency.  Please be aware that municipalities have to subscribe to the 911 service and many provinces do not have 911 coverage.  The majority of First Nations' Reserves in Alberta do not subscribe to 911.  In all cases, be aware of the emergency number to call and put these in your ERP.

STARS has an Emergency Link Centre and its purpose is to ‘link’ all of the decision makers together so that requesters can tell their story once. The STARS ELC also stays in direct communication with the STARS helicopter providing flight following as well as facilitating communication between STARS and ground resources. if your field site is in Alberta, pre-registering your work or research with STARS Emergency Link Centre is highly recommended.  For more information, please visit FRO's STARS page.


UAlberta Protective Services (780-492-5050) can provide assistance to any UAlberta employees or students who encounter an emergency situation when off-campus on University business, research or study (e.g., accident, natural disaster, political upheaval, crime) and can help contact other UAlberta personnel and family/friends to keep them informed about your situation. Prior to departure, you can register with the University's online travel registration system, UGo. Protective services has 24 hour access to UGo and can respond quickly in the event of an emergency.