Communications and Training
As has been discussed in
other posts [to the Scouts-L Youth Groups Discussion List], preparation
for and ANTICIPATION of potential problems is absolutely imperative. It
is my experience and observation that many of the tragedies that are experienced
are often a result of insufficient preparation or education about risk
factors on the part of leaders and youth. So many things can go wrong
as a result of natural hazards (such as lightning, rock fall, whitewater,
floods, etc.). Add to that the physiological impacts of sudden illness,
injury, etc., that create an adverse "domino effect" resulting
in tragic consequences we often read and hear about. Naturally, when it
is a Scouting event, it gets far more press than non-Scouting events which
suffer a tragedy, might receive. Statistically, Scouting trips still have
one of the best safety records of any youth organization in the world,
but risks are always present.
Any one countermeasure which
might be invoked in this "chain of events" can be enough to
mitigate or reverse the progression of events. However, lacking those
resources, the end result can be catastrophic.
Obviously we are dealing
with statistical probabilities, and in some situations, no matter how
well prepared you are, "mother nature" has the advantage, and
we "mere mortals" are going to suffer the consequences.
In Scouting, preparedness
is our "watchword." But we don't always do all we can to fulfill
those obligations. Yes, you can "nit-pick" an outing to the
point of saying, "well it's just too risky, so we aren't going to
even attempt it. But maybe that's not all bad. So here are a few ideas
about invoking effective countermeasures to mitigate risks:
1. Strategic planning:
Reach out for experts with
the resources and extensive experience and expertise, preferably who have
been where you are going. If they cannot go on the trip with you, get them
to share as much of their experience as they can well in advance of your
trip. If you don't have access to experienced persons, call Forest Rangers,
National Park Service Rangers, et al, and get in-depth information on the
area you plan to travel. Ask in-depth questions about "what-ifs"
to try to anticipate weather, natural hazards, physiological/environmental
2. Failsafe plans:
As with any trip, map out where
you plan to go, camp, and return for each day, and make sure every leader
and member knows the plan. Be sure that someone at home has all this information,
and can serve as a "callback" point in case of emergency, to contact
other parents, request search and rescue if the group doesn't return on
time, as scheduled, etc. Be sure they have copies of vehicle descriptions,
license plate numbers and names of everyone in the party. This information
can be invaluable to public safety agencies seeking a "lost" group
or individual. Give your plans to the park/forest rangers/ local mountain
rescue or law enforcement agency so they already know where/what you are
doing and what to expect if you have a problem.
Do small "conditioning
trips" to be sure everyone can physically keep up with the rigors and
demands of the trip, and to better assess their equipment and skills; This
gives an opportunity to "fix" things before the "big trip."
It also greatly helps group dynamics to see who the real leaders are, and
who might be "problems" under some circumstances. Reflecting with
the Scouts and Leaders after each shakedown allows everyone to benefit from
the experience of each member and to better understand what problems may
arise and how best to deal with them.
4. Tabletop Exercise:
With as much information as
you can gather, sit down with the Scouts and the adult leaders, and carefully
go over the routes, discussing hazards, risks, and asking for "what
if" scenarios for each eventuality that might be anticipated.
1. Crew Leader John Smith
gets giardia, too sick to hike out, what do we do?
2. Scout Leader Joe Jones
has chest pain and breathing difficulty, ten trail miles from nearest
phone or ranger station.
3. Scout Timmy Tenderfoot
is stung by a bee and has an allergic reaction on the trail, with 5 trail
miles to the nearest road or phone.
4. The "desert rat"
patrol's canoe hits a rock and rips a hole in the side so big it can't
be repaired on the river. We don't have enough canoes to carry their gear
and them too, and the closest landing is ten miles down river.
Research has shown that
such "preparedness exercises" often give the participants some
good "mental preparedness" to react to real situations calmly
and effectively which can save lives and avoid panic.
Then we need to consider fallback.
Previously, it has been thought that "preparedness will always get
us out of a serious situation." True, it can mitigate most things...but
if you have a serious, life threatening injury or illness, the only measures
which can be undertaken in a field setting with first aid skills may not
be enough. The lifesaving "golden hour" from time of injury to
time of delivery to a trauma center, in serious trauma situations can only
be achieved through rapid contact with emergency services, response of aeromedical
helicopters, and evacuation to level II or I trauma centers for definitive
care. Beyond that "hour" the probability of survival diminishes
Communications which are
effective and reliable throughout the course of the trip, then become
the only means of access for such emergent situations.
So how do you find effective
Cell phones have limited effectiveness.
Unless you have taken one or more of them to the area, and tried them out
in most of the areas you will be in, you are not guaranteed to have coverage.
Sometimes, in mountain settings, you may have to hike to a high point to
"hit" a cell site. Cell phones operate at frequencies in the 800
MHz range, with low power so are limited to "line of sight" access
to cell sites. Other problems are often associated with battery life and
failure of electronics. REDUNDANCY is critical. Having multiple spare batteries,
more than one phone, and phones with different carrier companies that you
know to be functional in that area is essential. Contact your service provider
to get a "footprint" map of their service area. More than likely
unless your high adventure site is close to a major interstate highway or
populated area, cell service will not be available or reliable. Cell phones
do NOT work well in canyons, so don't count on them. In fact, most communications
equipment that is portable does not fare well in canyons or where obstructions
exist. Going to a high point such as a peak or ridge will almost always
enhance communications access for any type of equipment.
SATELLITE CELL PHONES
Satellite Cell phones are available
and certainly are the most reliable method of communications anywhere in
the world since their "footprint" is essentially any point visible
to a "geosynchronous communications satellite." The drawback is
that they are expensive, and not everyone has access to them.
GPS Locators (Geosynchronous
Positioning Satellite Locators) GPS receivers are becoming less expensive
and can be most valuable for transmitting exact latitude and longitude
coordinates from the point of where assistance may be needed. Mountain
Rescue and Civil Air Patrol can effect very rapid responses when such
coordinates are transmitted by radio to the emergency communications centers.
Often you can borrow one for a trip from a business or government agency.
HAM RADIO (two-meter amateur
HAM (amateur) radio is probably
the best and most reliable alternative in the two meter band. Many extensive
ham radio repeaters cover many mountainous and isolated terrain areas from
high locations. Extensive "patching" capability and comprehensive
monitoring by amateur operators provides reliable communications and access
to emergency response providers. Scouts and leaders can get a "no code"
two meter ham license rather easily by taking a training course from local
"ham clubs" and taking the "novice" and then the "no-code"
tech license exam. Cost of high quality hand-held two meter portables from
various vendors such as Radio Shack, Uniden, Kenwood, et al is very reasonable;
and worth it's weight in gold, if you have an emergency. Redundancy is still
critical. Multiple batteries, and multiple radios are needed for reliability
and in case the group gets separated. These radios are so light and small
that they are not any burden at all to carry.
Radio communications for
coordinating trips, travel, getting help for breakdowns or "getting
lost," informing others of changes in itinerary is absolutely essential
and can save much lost time and frustration while en route or returning
from a trip. In some cases, equipping a vehicle with a high power mobile
radio and having the hiking group check in periodically with "base"
can alleviate a lot of problems and greatly enhance coordinating for pickups,
food drops, change of plans and most of all emergencies that may occur.
There are those who say
"keep high tech stuff out of the wilderness experience." Unfortunately,
this view while aesthetically pleasing, is potentially very dangerous
for reasons already discussed. So long as the trip goes well without "complications,"
the need for "high tech" assistance is minimal. But for those
times when it is necessary, it may be the difference in life or death!
If nothing else, it can save you a lot of lost time and coordination problems
when "Murphy strikes" and things get weird.
You cannot get enough! Remember
that if you are going to be responsible for the health and safety of Scouts,
you need to do everything you can to be ready for eventualities. This includes
not only extensive first aid and CPR, but additional training in "Wilderness
first aid" techniques. There are a number of good Wilderness first
aid books, one by William Forgey, M.D., that are packable, and give excellent
references for everything from minor first aid to field medical techniques
and medications that can be lifesaving. However, the book alone won't do
it. Many outdoor programs offer "wilderness first aid modules"
in addition to regular first aid courses just for that application and are
well worth taking.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE TRAINING
COURSE (RED CROSS)
You need to take a comprehensive
first aid course such as the new Red Cross "Emergency Response"
course. It is the next highest level training to EMT and takes about 50
hours. But it is well worth the time and experience, because it give you
much needed in-depth knowledge of assessment, obtaining emergency assistance,
and rendering in-depth care. It is vastly superior to the shorter 8-hour
"community first aid/CPR" courses which are now the minimum requirement
for BSA leaders on camping trips and high adventures.
The training is not just
for leaders! Scouts and Explorers absolutely should take this training.
I have been teaching this course to our youth for the past two years,
and they really respond well to it. Many adults have commented that they
would almost rather have the Explorers rendering emergency care because
they are so good at it!
Just as you need first
aid/CPR, you also need wilderness survival and light rescue knowledge.
Courses such as those offered by "Papa Bear" Whitmore and the
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) or Outward Bound, et al; are
extremely useful. Similarly, if you are doing aquatics on rivers and lakes,
under BSA aquatics regulations, you need "Safety Afloat/Aquatics
Training and ideally, experienced leader(s) with such abilities. It goes
without saying that aquatics requirements must be strictly adhered to.
A moment of exception such as a Scout not wearing a life vest on a river
trip, can result in tragedy. This is one area where a "no-nonsense"
policy must be rigidly enforced and Scouts and Leaders must be made aware
that violations may be fatal, and the "lesser penalty" may result
in them being sent home forthwith. While negative reinforcement is not
the ideal in Scouting, it can be minimized by showing Scouts video-tapes
of the force of moving water and how river-rafters and canoeists without
life-vests have been tossed into moving waters and quickly drowned in
hydraulics or other hazardous situations.
This "real world"
experience can be quite sobering, without causing fear. It is often aid
that "knowledge is power" and the ability to educate Scouts
and leaders about anticipating and preventing risks with proper equipment
and procedure will go a long way toward enhancing safety awareness.
COMPREHENSIVE MEDICAL KITS
Consult with physicians, especially
those with outdoor medical experience, as well as EMT's/Paramedics, and
get them to help you design a good field first aid kit. Remember that first
aid kits are more than bandaids, and aspirin. You don't need to carry a
"portable emergency room" with you but there are some key medications
and equipment that can be lifesaving in a field setting. Dr. Forgey's book
provides excellent lists for this area. Some medications are by prescription
only, but may be essential to your kit. Ask your physician advisor to give
you a prescription and a notarized letter giving you "standing orders"
to administer those medications to the members of your trip. Be sure you
are trained by the physician and that he is comfortable with your ability
to administer such medications.
GET GOOD MEDICAL HISTORY
AND PHYSICAL EXAMS FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS
Be absolutely sure you know
what the medical history and susceptibility of each member of the trip may
be. The high adventure physical form is a must. Be sure to note any allergies
to insects, foods, etc., and other pre-existing medical conditions such
as asthma, heart condition, etc. Designate Scouts and Leaders to be "medics"
to deal with those issues. DON'T put all your "eggs in one basket"
by having only one person trained medically. Remember the military adage,
that sometimes "the doctor needs a doctor." So you better have
several layers of fallback in case your resource becomes a victim.
KNOW WHAT THE LOCAL EMERGENCY
RESOURCES ARE AND HOW TO GET THEM QUICKLY
Check in advance about mountain
rescue, whitewater rescue, medical helicopter availability, and local hospital/trauma
center resources/ambulance services. Don't "assume" that those
services are always close by and readily available. Generally they are,
but you need to know for sure. If not, consider options to compensate.
FAILSAFE RESOURCES AND EQUIPMENT
Always plan to have "spare"
or additional resources that you hold only for emergencies. This includes
additional drinking water, water purification filters; emergency high energy
freeze-dried food rations, Gatorade electrolyte drink mix packets for dehydration
treatment; a "survival" kit with "space blankets"; spare
flashlights, batteries, bulbs; a "survival" strobe beacon for
aircraft/night location identification; "high visibility" yellow-green
fluorescent/reflective nylon fabric cycling jackets/parkas; cyalume 12 hour
emergency lightsticks and police whistles for each member. Other items can
be added to suit individual preferences. If you are going on a river trip,
or even on backpacks when it rains, be sure to package your first aid and
survival gear in waterproof containers or kits. Nothing is worse than "soggy"
bandaids and pills when you need them. Ziplock bags help a lot for these
items as well, and are good "organizers" for first aid and survival
kits. Redundancy is again important. Have small kits spread out among the
group, and be sure each participant has a personal first aid/medical kit
for his/her own needs. If the person who is "lost" has the only
first aid kit, the rest of the group is big trouble.
NATURAL HAZARDS AWARENESS
The Red Cross teaches a new
course called "Community Disaster Education." The course deals
with natural hazards such as lightning, flash flooding, tornadoes, avalanche,
hazardous materials emergencies, severe storms, hurricanes, etc., and provides
excellent video tapes and brochures on how to avoid such hazards or to mitigate
their effects. This information can be very useful on outdoor trips. It
is interesting to note that flash floods are the leading cause of death
in natural hazards, followed closely by lightning fatalities. Good videotapes
and publications on these topics can go a long way in enhancing awareness
Outdoor survival courses such
as Papa Bear Whitmore's course stress the vital need for "mental toughness"
to acknowledge quickly that a critical situation has arisen, and to immediately
begin countermeasures. Research has shown that most victims of wilderness
emergencies often perish because they do not acknowledge the apparent and
immediate risks, and fail to prepare for them early in the process when
they are still mentally alert, well hydrated, and physically capable to
responding. An attitude of "fierce will to live" must be instilled
in every participant. All of the resources discussed above will do absolutely
no good if the individual does not have the determination to assess the
situation and respond appropriately and effectively in the face of very
adverse circumstances. Interestingly, studies in disasters have shown that
people have a great capacity to respond and render assistance, but often
lack the skills and knowledge to do so effectively. Much of what Scouting
teaches is self-reliance and leadership skills to use resources effectively;
there is no better place to put those skills to use than in emergent situations.
Again, simulations of potential
real-life scenarios such as a "lost Scout" on a shakedown are
excellent ways to test response plans and to give Scouts and Leaders confidence
in dealing with the real situation should it occur. Positive reflection
sessions after the exercises contribute greatly to reinforcing those responses
and skills for the whole group.
It is recommended that
Scouts and Scouters who plan to be involved in wilderness experiences
avail themselves of as much training and experiential education as possible
before the fact.
Unfortunately, this is
presently one of the weaker areas of leadership training in Scouting in
many areas. Much attention should be given by District or Council risk
management and health and safety committees to greatly improve the leadership
skills and resource availability in the topics discussed above.
It would be most interesting
to have additional input and discussion on these topics from others who
are similarly experienced. Once again to paraphrase a quote from another
post "plan for the worst and expect the best and you will not be
Bob Amick, EMT-B, Explorer
Advisor, High Adventure Explorer Post 72, Boulder, CO, and Longs Peak
Council Exploring Training Chair