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.
All units should recognize that they owe a "duty of care" to their youth. But the duty of care is accompanied by a "standard of care" - i.e., those steps taken by a unit to meet its duty of care. Failure to meet the requisite standard of care may result in injury (or worse) to a youth, leading to court. A Florida case involving the death of a scout due to heat illness during a twenty mile hike in the Everglades reinforces this point. The complaint filed in connection with the resulting lawsuit against the scout leaders listed the following alleged breaches of the standard of care toward the scout: planning and conducting a 20 mile hike in 100 degree weather, failing to obtain proper weather information on the day of the hike, failing to follow BSA guidelines, failing to undertake proper training for leading minors on a hike, failing to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat illness, failing to take proper action after the scout exhibited signs of heat illness, continuing the hike after the scout showed signs of heat illness, failing to have proper communications equipment, failing to have proper equipment for the hike, failing to recognize an emergency situation, failing to ensure that the scouts were properly hydrating themselves, failing to conduct proper emergency planning, and failing to adhere to Trek Safely guidelines. This case makes clear that the standard of care, irrespective of whether the planned event is a hike, a campout, a ski trip, or canoe trip, is a foundational aspect of risk management planning for the event. Otherwise, lawyers will use their creativity to make lists such as the above. Safe Scouting!
Are we 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 last summer through Bowron Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia. Interestingly, the trek followed a number of interconnected lakes and rivers which form a rectangle of sorts, so that the group was able to travel from one point along the rectangle to end up at the same point. The Bowron Lake area is apparently one of the top wilderness canoe trek venues in the world. And wilderness it is, on the western edge of the Canadian Rockies, with all of the risks of wilderness canoeing, including cold water, unpredictable weather, large waves, etc., as noted in the article. I note with interest that the troop 's preparation included a Sacramento, California American Red Cross canoeing course, which according to a participant, taught different kinds of strokes, how to paddle efficiently, and how to do canoe rescues. The "fundamentals of canoeing" course which the group presumably participated in (according to the Sacramento Red Cross website) included a Friday evening session at a local pool, and fourteen hours of weekend instruction on a local lake. In other words, the troop did not rely solely on a scout having earned canoeing merit badge as sufficient training to participate in a challenging wilderness canoe trek. And, with everyone having taken the same course, they were all on the same page skills-wise. I note that from its website that the Sacramento Red Cross Chapter also provides classes in river and whitewater canoeing. Aside from the Red Cross, the American Canoe Association provides instructors for groups seeking to enhance skills in paddle sportshttp://www.americancanoe.org/?page=Find_Instructors. While not mentioned in the article, I would assume that CPR training would have been included in the group's preparation, not to mention BSA Paddlecraft safety training by the adults (a course frequently offered at summer camp for attending adults). Yes, such training potentially takes time away from lacrosse, football, baseball, rugby and soccer, to the possible irritation of parents and coaches, but as one scout said in the article, "The waves were pretty big, and right then I was thinking, I don't want to do this". At that point, the training that Scout received was probably life-protecting training, and time well spent. Safe boating to all!
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.
Risk Management Documents and Materials