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Jim Hellwege, Vice Chair for Risk Management
Risk Management topics and issues as well as updates from the council on risk management topics and changes.
Here's a recent article from Backpacker magazine about a lightning incident encountered by a Scout group in the mountains of Colorado, where "summit fever" almost resulted in serious consequences. http://www.backpacker.com/2012-january-reader-survival-lightning/survival/16230
Also, NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) recently published a new handbook on Lightning safety by John Gookin, an acknowledged expert in the field. http://store.nols.edu/store/pc/NOLS-Lightning-p1975.htm#.U62DK6iKTN8
Canoeing in High Adventure
On Thursday, June 12, 2014, a crew of eight originating from BSA's Northern Tier base encountered 30 mph winds and heavy waves while canoeing in the Boundary Waters. Two of their three canoes swamped in the waves, putting five of the eight crew members in the water. The crew members in the third canoe were able to seek shelter on a nearby island after having been driven there by the winds. Assistance was requested by satellite phone, and all crew members were ultimately rescued. The crew was able to pinpoint its position with a strobe light, which rescuers said was instrumental in being able to locate the crew along the heavily-forested shoreline (helpful hint there). The air temperature was reported to be in the 40s. One commentator stated that the water temperature "may have been warmer than the air temperature", which probably means the water was fairly cold given the early June timing for the trek. In response to my inquiry, Northern Tier base had no idea what the water temperature was, which might be a good thing to know in the event your crew members end up in the water for any length of time. The local Sheriff's Office stated "Weather conditions were less than favorable for being out on big water, and the high winds and big waves and big open water were not good conditions for boats, let alone canoes". This story has a favorable ending, but that may be small consolation to those crew members who spent time in the cold water under tough conditions trying to survive, not to mention being stranded on land under hypothermic conditions awaiting rescue. A reminder to future Northern Tier participants that: (1) Northern Tier requires all crew members to wear boots while canoeing, (2) Northern Tier requires participants to be pre-cleared for swim ability prior to arrival, and (3) Northern Tier apparently does not spend time teaching in-water swamping or canoe rescue skills prior to departure. If you have a crew attending Northern Tier for a canoe trek, would your crew be comfortable swimming in boots if dumped into the water, would their swim skills in a cold lake match the pre-clearance form (particularly for adult advisors), and would your crew have the ability to self-rescue if one or more canoes swamps in heavy waves, or would that be the first time a crew member was in a swamped canoe while suffering the shock of suddenly being in cold water? The story seems to suggest that once your crew swamps you may require and have available to your crew immediate rescue assistance, but there will be circumstances when self-rescue is necessary. If the crew had not had a satellite phone, what would they have done? Was that part of the planning process? And, more importantly, would your crew be able to make those decisions that would enable the crew to avoid being in canoes on a large lake under 30 mph winds and temperatures in the 40s (particularly if the margin for error is that small)? Things to think about.
Exercising Good Judgement
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, the exercise of good judgment may be the only factor protecting
participants from a bad outcome. Factors that can inhibit good decision-making include
carelessness, complacency, denial, improper assumptions, effects of fatigue, stress-affected behavior, resistance to changing conditions, lack of experience or knowledge, overconfidence, lack of respect for risks or hazards, poor conflict resolution, ineffective leadership, bad participant behavior, lack of understanding of participant skill level, summit fever, tunnel vision, hazard unawareness, time or schedule pressures, leader ego, or unreasonable goals.
In the absence of the exercise of good judgment, Scouts can be placed in a position of vulnerability during the activity from which there may be no recovery. Good
judgment in the outdoors is accordingly an integral part of the risk management process, and can be enhanced both by training and experience, taking particular note of
the prior outdoor experience of other leaders in the unit. Lastly, in the unfortunate event of a serious injury (or worse) to a Scout during an activity due to the failure to exercise good judgment, there may be an emotional cost to be paid by the participating adult leader(s). As one adult leader once said when remarking about the seriousness of an injury suffered by one of his Scouts – “I wish I had a time machine . . .” This is just a reminder that a bad day may have a number of victims, youth and adult leader alike, both physical and emotional.
Now that the spring and summer boating seasons are approaching, some safe boating reminders. A kayak or canoe river trip may not normally seem to be a high risk event. But what if is added to the mix fast moving water due to heavy rains or snow melt, or the fact that Scouts or adults inexperienced or unskilled in kayaking or canoeing are participating , or the fact that the temperature of the river is under 70 degrees, or the fact that the river conditions may exceed the skill level of many of the Scouts or adults, or a combination of the above? Will leaders determine that the water level and river flow rate are acceptable both for the activity and for the age and experience level of the group? Will the water temperature be determined to be within acceptable limits? Are the water level and flow rate susceptible to sudden change due to recent or approaching weather? Many local rivers have on-line flow rate/water temperature gauges that may prove invaluable when determining whether the river conditions are appropriate for the activity. Most will find water temperatures below 70 degrees F. to be chilly (fairly typical for local rivers until mid-summer). If you don't know what the water temperature is, bring a thermometer. Attention is directed to Chapter 14 of BSA’s Aquatics Supervision manual (2013 edition) for a discussion of cold water safety, which states that at water temperatures below 60 degrees F., boaters should wear insulating clothing such as a wet or dry suit. In other words, participants should dress for the water temperature. Safe boating to all!
Risk Management Documents and Materials
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