Search and Rescue in the National Parks . . . what were the causes?

The National Park Service keeps records of search and rescue missions in its parks, and its 2014 annual report is enlightening as to such causes, most of which are applicable to the planning and conduct of Scouting activities. For instance,

Preventative search and rescue (PSAR) . . . a proactive approach to a safe activity

The National Park Service since 1997 has engaged in an effort call “Preventative Search and Rescue” (PSAR ), in a proactive attempt to reduce the need to engage in searches and rescues of park visitors. This effort generally involves educating

Who has supervisory authority over a high adventure crew?

In this story regarding a near-tragedy during a 2015 Northern Tier canoe trek, it is stated that the Northern Tier “guide” made a mistake by taking the crew too close to a waterfall, with the entire crew ultimately being swept

Portage, or rapids, at Northern Tier?

The participant handbook for BSA’s Northern Tier canoe programs states as follows with regard to its “whitewater” policy: “The running of rapids, whitewater or waterfalls is prohibited. All Northern Tier crews will portage around all falls, rapids, fast water, etc.

History repeats . . . the dangers of open (cold) water boating

On June 19, 2016, while attending a Russian summer camp, 14 children aged 11-15 (out of 47 participants) perished while boating on a large lake during a summer camp activity. The boats overturned during an advancing storm.  The water temperature

Was the incident the result of product, process, or procedure?

In his article “Learning from accident analysis: The dynamics leading up to a rafting accident”, The Journal of Experiential Education, August 1998, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 86-95, the author Johan Hovelynck makes the point that accidents can be attributed

Did the injury result from gross negligence, and does it matter? It might!

The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997   immunizes from liability unpaid volunteers working for non-profit organizations whose negligence results in an injury to another during the course of their volunteer duties.  This Act, of course, applies to adult Scout volunteers acting within

Can you cope at the boundaries of the activity?

Jeff Jackson, professor and coordinator of Algonquin College’s Outdoor Adventure Program, and co-author of “Managing Risk – Systems Planning for Outdoor Adventure Programs” (2011), in a recent webinar, makes the point that “safe failure” is more important than being “fail

Do nothing in haste . . .

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think

Hints to assist in avoiding or minimizing risk in the outdoors . . .

Peter Kick, in his 2015 book “Desperate Steps – Life, Death, and Choices Made in the Mountains of the Northeast“, lists the following hints to assist in avoiding or minimizing risk in the backcountry: Plan ahead – know your bailout

Injuries and near misses – what are their causes, and can they be avoided by following BSA policies and procedures?

Goode et al, in their 2015 publication “Looking beyond people, equipment, and environment:  Is a systems theory model of accident causation required to understand injuries and near misses during outdoor activities?“, Procedia Manufacturing  3 (2015) 1125-1131 (available on-line at,

How many victims are there?

In the event of an unfortunate incident, involving one or more youth or adults, it may be simplistic to believe that the only victims are those directly involved – i.e., those who are injured, or worse. But, the list of

Is your unit capable of attending to risk issues?

Professor Angie Moline of Northern Arizona University several years ago released the results of a study  directed to the level of preparedness of university faculty who supervised outdoor field programs for students in subject areas such as ecology, biology, environmental

How many lemons?

Several outdoor risk management commentators equate “risk factors ignored” to “lemons” such as might appear on a slot machine, such that when sufficient “lemons” accumulate due to ignored risk factors, the “jackpot” of overwhelming risk results, potentially leading to a

The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety . . . an integral part of the standard of care!

The “Sweet 16 of BSA Safety”  is an integral part of the standard of care which must be exercised during the planning and conduct of Scouting’s outdoor program. The respective aspects of the “Sweet 16” are as follows: Qualified Supervision

Proper hydration . . . is anyone paying attention?

The “default” mode for outdoor participants, particularly youth, probably tends toward dehydration as opposed to being sufficiently hydrated.  Why?  Most will use the “thirsty” reflex to determine when to consume water, but at that point, most commentators take the view

What causes accidents in the outdoors, and how can you avoid them?

There is a consensus among outdoor program commentators that accidents in the outdoors are the result of one or more of unsafe conditions, unsafe acts, and errors in judgment. Leemon et al, “Risk Management for Outdoor Leaders“, 2005, p.16., among others.

Unauthorized activities – don’t be tempted!

BSA‘s Guide to Safe Scouting  states the following with regard to BSA‘s liability insurance coverage and activities conducted on behalf of youth: “The Boy Scouts of America’s general liability policy provides coverage for a bodily injury or property damage claim

Gear, people, environment . . . pay attention to these!

Rick Curtis, author of “The Backpacker’s Manual” (2005), an excellent and highly recommended 400+ page treatise on backcountry skills, makes the point (pp. 226-228), also made by many others in the outdoor recreation field, that potential hazards in the outdoors

Learn it young, remember it forever . . .

“Learn it young, remember it forever” . . .  a promotional slogan adopted by Scouts South Africa, as discussed and depicted in this video.   This slogan has real implications with regard to risk management in Scouting, reinforcing the fact

What is your “zone of operation” ?

Several outdoor program commentators characterize an outdoor program participant’s ability to function by relating their level of competence to the degree of difficulty of the activity, denoted as “operation zones“. Such “operation zones” are defined as follows: The “boredom zone”

Questions to ask about your outdoor program!

Cathye Haddock, author of “Managing Risks in Outdoor Activities”, New Zealand Mountain Safety Manual 27, pp. 91-93, 1993, suggests that administrators of outdoor education programs should address a number of areas of inquiry to ensure that their programs are well-planned

Some recommended outdoor risk management resources . . .

Apart from the author’s risk management book, the one and only book written specifically for adult Scout volunteers on the subject, there are a number of other resources directed to outdoor risk management which would find a useful spot in

Philmont PASS . . . or fail?

Philmont Scout Reservation has been in continuous use since 1942. Now, beginning 2015-2016, BSA offered Philmont advisor training programs (apparently the first ever offered specifically for Philmont advisors). The program, known as PASS (Philmont Advisor Skills School)  was offered both as a

The challenge of an activity . . . and adult volunteer decision-making

During a recent outdoor activity, the author requested that one of the activity stations be modified (by reducing the height at which the activity occurred) to provide a greater margin for safety, this despite the activity being within the guidelines

The unit must have a culture of risk management to safely “sail the boat”!

Each Scout unit must establish a culture of outdoor risk management in order to enhance the odds that a successful, safe, outcome is achieved. The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council  in its book “Outdoor Safety – Risk Management for Outdoor

Adult volunteers . . . will they survive the event?

The movie “White Mile” (trailer found here) (available on DVD and used in support of some university outdoor recreation courses) is based on a true life event where several adult participants perished during a “corporate-bonding” white water rafting event in Canada.

General vs. specific supervision . . . know the difference, and the potential effect!

The “qualified supervision” of BSA’s Sweet Sixteen  involves many responsibilities, one of which is to understand when to exercise “general supervision”, when to exercise “specific supervision”, and when to transition from one to another. In a reported incident of years past,

Follow the “rules of adventure”

In his book “Deep Survival”  (2003), author Laurence Gonzales offered the following “Rules of Adventure”, which are certainly applicable to the planning and conduct of Scouting’s outdoor program: (1) Know what you are doing  (have you taken all applicable training and

Open water paddling . . . be prepared, and be aware!

Open water paddling, particularly in bodies of water where the temperature is cold, places risk management at the forefront. The margin for error can be slim indeed as shown by this Chilean kayak story  involving the founder of North Face, and

New Hampshire’s and Utah’s new “search and rescue” cards . . . avoid being billed for your rescue!

Rescue agencies, including the National Park Service, as well as various state agencies, have long questioned whether those in need of rescue, who have created a need to be rescued due to their own negligence, should be billed for those

“Be prepared” in the backcountry

Hikes in the backcountry include their own challenges, including unknown, unexpected, and unforeseeable risks, resulting in the potential for harm. Being prepared for emergencies by carrying a  rescue or survival kit  is, of course, part of “being prepared”! The National

Foreseeability . . . it’s hard to predict the future, but someone has to try!

A leader’s duty of care to the Scouts includes attempting to understand those risks that are “reasonably foreseeable”, and then either accepting the consequences of those risks, mitigating the effect of the risks by making changes to the activity, or

Some stories of Scout volunteers . . . driver fatigue, Philmont, falling tree, and severe weather at summer camp

Several persons during a risk management training session shared some personal stories. Story #1: Regarding the issue of driver fatigue, one person confirmed that a scout leader returning from summer camp fell asleep and hit his car in traffic.  As

Teachable moments in the wilderness

This post will be supplemented periodically with stories about teachable moments in the wilderness.  There unfortunately does not seem to be a lack of them on the web . . . Cold water canoe accident 1982 Boy Scout cold water

Weather “trigger points” . . . use them!

Weather is a primary risk factor to be addressed.  As some say, “WEATHER RULES“! One way to address the risk associated with weather is to employ pre-determined weather “trigger points” which may be cause to put “Plan B” into effect

An expert’s tips for avoiding accidents in the outdoors

Cliff Jacobson, a renowned author and outdoorsman with over 35 years experience canoeing  in the backcountry, offers the following tips for avoiding accidents in the September-October 2012 issue of Scouting magazine: (1) Pay attention to the weather; (2) Dress appropriately

Three outdoor youth tragedies that changed things . . .

Since 1978 (a little more than a generation), there have been three outdoor event tragedies involving school-age youth, which were cause for reflection in the outdoor recreation industry – one was a 1978 canoeing incident  (13 fatalities), one was a

“Barrier analysis” . . . standard of care by another name?

“Barrier analysis” is a concept which originated decades ago with government and industrial accident investigations and accident prevention efforts. While the barrier analysis concept has  not routinely been associated with risk management in the outdoor recreation field, extensive discussion of

The “Rescue Curve” . . . self-rescue, or call for help?

In the wilderness, whether on land or on water, reported incidents make clear that rescue of one or more participants may be necessary.  Whether the desired rescue is ultimately possible or successful depends on a number of factors, including the

Cold water . . . the “Silent Killer”!

The temperature of the water upon which Scouts conduct boating or rafting activities is a major risk factor, the potential effect of which may be ignored more often than not. However, no aquatic activity should be planned and carried out without due

The exercise of good judgment in the outdoors is crucial!

The exercise of good judgment by an adult leader in a youth-based outdoor activity is a crucial aspect of risk management.  Indeed, it is the foundation of BSA safety in the outdoors.  In the end, exercising good judgment may be the only factor protecting participants

Are you sufficiently skilled for paddle sport programs?

The August 2014 issue of Boys’ Life contains an article titled “The Wild Wild North”, describing a California troop’s eight day trek through Bowron Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia.  Interestingly, the trek followed a number of interconnected lakes and

What is “”Qualified Supervision””?

One of BSA’s Sweet Sixteen of Scouting Safety  is “Qualified Supervision”. The Sweet Sixteen’’s  “”Qualified Supervision”” and ““Discipline”” form the “bread” of BSA’’s “ “Safety Sandwich””, with the “meat” of the sandwich being the activity-specific rules for each activity (Safe Swim Defense,

Her sons survived! A parent’’s perspective on risk in the wilderness

Perhaps to bring a bit of personal perspective to risk management in Scouting, below is an excerpt from a blog  written by a Scout mother regarding her two sons’ experiences at Philmont and Northern Tier, respectively, reinforcing the fact that it

Is rescue possible in the wilderness . . . or is “hope” the only plan?

A summer 2015 Boundary Waters rescue (a church group) confirms that “when you are in the wilderness, you are IN the wilderness”, and absent the ability to self- or group-rescue, the group may be at the mercy of good fortune, and outside

Lightning safety in the outdoors

Lightning safety is a necessary skill for those participating in outdoor program activities. Indeed, it is not difficult to find references on the web to lightning incidents. The lightning risk in Scouting is real, as shown by the article “Fatal Bolt