Hiking & Backpacking Leadership Part II – Trip Preparation plus Wilderness Emergency Response Protocol

Please click here to read critical introductory material in including how to Engage the Frontal Cortex, recognize the difference between Perceived & Actual Risk, and mitigating the Eight Great Outdoor Hazards. These articles are designed to help the outdoor leaders cut the chaff, and start guiding students and clients with a solid foundation of knowledge.

If you would like intensive, hands-on training to become a highly effective outdoor leader, join us in mid June for our annual OUTDOOR LEADERSHIP TRAINING EXPEDITION: Backpacking into Wolf Country course or stay all summer and graduate from one of our six unique residential summer Environmental Education Apprenticeships on Outdoor Leadership & Nature Guiding, on Ethnobotany & Herbalism, on Wildlife Conservation & Tracking, on Traditional Technology & Survival, or on Homesteading & Sustainability.

Communication Plan & Incident Reporting

Most people think that communicating means being able to express one’s self. But that’s just a start. We have to learn to express in a way that people can hear, and more. Wikipedia has a nice summary of what communication entails, including:

  • Thought: First, people need to have all the information and understand it.
  • Expressing: Next, a message is sent to a receiver in words, actions, or other symbols that the receiver can fully understand.
  • Listening: Lastly, the receiver translates the words or symbols into a concept or information that is what the sender truly meant.

As mentioned in Part I of this Outdoor Leadership article series, things get difficult when we are HALT: Hungry or Hurting; Angry or Alientated; Lonely or Loving; Thirsty or Tired. That’s when having a practiced communication plan is critical. At the Wolf College, we practice facilitation skills and conflict resolution at the start of our summer trainings, and we have a protocol for communicating incidents as shown here:

Incident Report Form — Attach to Application Registration / Health History Form. Complete one form per incident.  Fill out reverse and have all persons, including witnesses involved, attach signed and dated statements to describe the incident.

Name of Participant ____________________________________ Date ________________
Type of Incident (Behavioral, Accident, Illness, etc.) _________________________________
Date & Time of Incident ________________________________________________a.m./p.m.
What activity was the participant involved in at the time, and who was supervising the activity?
List any equipment that was involved in the incident:
Describe the sequence of activity succinctly including what the participant was doing, where the incident occurred (make a diagram to locate people and objects, and describe the terrain and its difficulty level), what emergency procedures were followed and whom was involved. (Attach paper, signed and dated, describing the incident in detail.  Describe the weather, the patient’s disposition, and the position the patient was found in if relevant and how he/she was moved.)
What could the participant have done to prevent the incident?
Who (parents/guardian/emergency contact) was notified? ____________________________
Time & method notified and by whom? (Include relevant contact numbers) _______________
Describe the response of person/s contacted:
Which, if any, WOLF supervisor was notified? ______________________________________
Time & method notified, and by whom? (Include relevant contact numbers) ______________
Instructions given by supervisor:
Name and phone number of the participant’s family insurance company, our liability insurance company, or our accident insurance company that was notified for a claim:
Describe any contact/comments given to the media:
Name of Witness _____________________________________Phone _________________
Witness Address ____________________________________________________________
Witness Role _______________________________________________________________
Name of Incident Respondent Completing Form ____________________________________
Position in Wolf Camp _________________________ Signature ______________________

Ad-Blog-BackpackingAddressing the FAF Factor – Transitions Planning

Besides a group’s level of happiness generally, the biggest test of whether you and your staff communicate well is during moments of transition: packing up to leave, unpacking the vehicles and getting the hike underway, setting up tents and running meals, for instance. Transitions take a lot of thought and pre-planning, then super clear communication, to avoid what our very first apprentice Kate Hedges coined as the FAF Factor: Farting Around Forever.

A big FAF Factor, or in other words, when it seems to take forever to make transitions, should be a huge “red flag” not only that your planning and communication is poor, but that you are risking serious injury. It’s more dangerous being around human-made equipment like vehicles, camp gear, etc. and that’s where transitions take place. So monitor your FAF Factor by timing your transitions, and shoot for progress, not perfection.

Preventing Brain Burps – Moving Site Mitigation

Now for moving site strategies: the term “moving site” was coined by Paul Nicolazzo of the Wilderness Medical Training Center who, to my knowledge and experience, offers the best training you can get on strategies for managing “moving sites” and for outdoor program risk management in general. What he calls “moving sites” are basically just activities which involve moving from one location to another. In other words, human-powered traveling activities.

Examples of moving sites are when a group of people hike from Point A to Point B. The question is, how are you going to manage that activity to “mitigate,” or reduce as much as possible, the risks? Maybe you will position the person with the most experience on the trail in front, and the person with the best “people” skills in back. Maybe the group leader needs to be in the middle.

Again, thinking ahead – planning – is key along with communication. But in the moment, we can experience Brain Burps that can lead to injuries. The cause, besides lack of planning and poor communication, is good ol’ HALT which is explained above. You want to know what the key to preventing injuries is in that case? Learning to SAY NO. In fact, this bit of advice is probably going to be your biggest take-home message, and it takes practice!

Empower yourself to HALT when you are a bit unsure of a current risk factor, and always encourage everyone around you to SAY NO or HALT when they don’t understand why a risk is being taken, and that the risk has been mitigated. Crossing a river or avalanche slope are obvious Moving Site activities which should allow veto power by every single person.

But what about hiking down a slope to a dry creek bed, and an inexperienced person in the group thinks it’s too risky? If you know it to be safe for everyone, you should take 20 minutes to listen to worries, and then describe the risk and its mitigation plan: perhaps in this case it’s just that people don’t know they are perfectly capable of going down there, and that there are no risks greater than anywhere else on the hike. That situation is exactly the time to practice saying HALT and honoring it – so that good habits are developed to prevent truly risky situations.

Transportation & Site Safety Plans

Muddling our definitions a bit further, let’s remember that we have to be concerned about 1) transition moments, 2) moving sites, and now: 3) stationary activity sites, and 4) transportation vehicle “sites.”  Of course, transitions often take place at the same “stationary sites” where you do activities, and transport vehicles are moving, but they are really a distinct “location” you need to mitigate risks for.

In fact, in addition to the dangers of being on the road in general, one of the most dangerous vehicles you can use is a passenger van which carries more than 8 people. Check out http://www.dmv.org/how-to-guides/safety-and-driving.php for suggestions on how to mitigate their risks, and http://www.nsc.org/pages/home.aspx for creating a comprehensive driver safety plan.

Finally, you need to develop risk management plans for each of the “stationary sites” you plan to locate activities.

Equipment & Food Safety Plan

We have policies that cover many eventualities, with equipment and food safety. To address the latter issue, just get a food handler’s permit and you’ll have most of what you need. We also require that anyone handling food receives training in sanitation, menu planning, food preparation and protection, and hygiene. These things seem like no-brainers, but it turns out that 95% of our staff under the age of 30 don’t have a clue about how to clean a bathroom or kitchen, let alone food preparation.

Remember how I said above that being around human-made equipment is the most dangerous place to be, and further, that “transitions” usually involve lots of equipment? The only place anyone has ever been close to severely injured (cuts, concussions, etc) at Wolf Camp has been around equipment used during transitions: playground equipment while waiting for rides, but also garden tools , construction tools, and of course survival tools like knives. You should have an equipment safety use procedure and training for every significant item you encounter in the field. Here’s one example:

Wolf College Knife Safety Training

  • Demo how to hold knife properly in sheath. Secure in sheath, in bag, if in vehicle.
  • Demo how to pass knife safely.
  • Demo how to put knife in and take knife out of sheath safely.
  • Demo how to enforce the knife safety zone.
  • Demo how to sit when working with knife
  • Demo how not to leave knife on ground unattended and without a sheath
  • Demo how turning object around so you are always cutting away from you, commonly known as never cutting toward yourself.
  •  Demo how not to cut on or over legs or into the ground. Get a big piece of wood to carve into if necessary.
  • Demo how to always have the hand that is holding the object be above the knife. See if you can do this when carving a hole into a bow-drill hand-hold.
  • Demo how to keep finger always behind guard.
  • Demo how to make little cuts rather than large gouges, use thumbs on back of blade, etc.
  • Demo how to test for sharpness properly, aka perpendicularly.
  • Demo how to always take plenty of breaks and always HHAALLTT or otherwise losing awareness.
  • Demo how to administer first aid for knife cuts.
  • Test ability to carve a knot off safely;
  • Test ability to split kindling;
  • Test ability to score and break a stick;
  • Test ability to carve a simple design;
  • Test ability to sharpen a knife.

Top Hazards Mitigation Plans (Falls/Strikes, Water, Toxins)

Falls & Strikes: For an excellent article on “Hiking Meetups” Safety which points out that the one factor which should be the cause of most trip cancelations (other than treacherous driving conditions) is wind hazard which is well described by Seattle Backpackers Magazine. There’s also a good description of how to prevent slips and falls here. Finally, you can develop a mitigation plan for avoiding falls by clicking here.

Swimming & Other Water Activities: Open water safety tips and training is not widely available, but there are starting to be a few resources online, including ACA Water Safety Training & Tips from the American Camping Association and some excellent LA City Lifeguard information for ocean beaches from the City of Los Angeles.  Finally, it’s critical to create a Wading Safety plan since accidents often happen along the shore, so start here and here.

Avoiding Poisons & Other Toxic Intakes: To develop a mitigation plan to avoid poisons and other toxins, the U.S. Center for Disease Control has the best resources, including avoiding poisonous plants, avoiding household poisoning here and here.

Environmental Threats & Emergency Response Procedure

There are many environmental health threats. To understand what they are, go to http://www.wildmedcenter.com/1/category/environmental%20hazards/1.html and take a Wilderness First Aid course to help make yourself aware of these threats, as well as how to treat health issues which result from them. The following is my procedure which can be applied to any kind of emergency:

Wolf College Health Emergency Response Procedure

1. Clear everyone of any imminent hazards (see, hear, smell) and evacuate the uninjured to safe zones. (pre-determined if at camp)

2. Determine number of victims and relieve any patients of further injury, following the ABCs: (things that can possibly be done without first aid kit)

  • Clear Airway and Ensure Breathing. (perform hymelick, CPR, etc. if needed)
  • Maintain Circulation (stop bleeding, ensure blood flow to vital organs, get defibralator if needed)
  • Treat Severe Emergencies (prevent further spinal injury, reverse anaphlactic shock, warm hypothermic patient, cool heat injuries, prevent imminent infections, sedate violent perpetrator, etc.)

3. If the incident is an emergency that merits a 911 call, ensure that someone responsible:

  • Can reach a working phone and call 911. (describe how/where)
  • Can describe the problem. (chief complaint, who the patient is, mechanism of injury)
  • Can give directions to your location.  (directions to Wolf Camp are posted by phone)
  • Can communicate back to you and coordinate meeting ambulance. (at top of driveway at camp)

4. Have responsible person contact the highest ranking first aid trained staff member plus Chris Chisholm if on site. (one of the latter two should contact patient’s emergency contacts (i.e. parents if minor) as soon as appropriate, and if necessary, have them meet patient at the hospital, or if appropriate, receive instructions on what to do with patient)

5. Have responsible person contact retrieve needed supplies (carried by lead instructor or by assistant instructor if assistant has greater emergency medical training, plus extra supplies located in camp first aid room or in vehicle) including:

  • First Aid Kit (remember rubber gloves and pen/pencil)
  • Camp Registration Form (i.e., patient health history and emergency contact info)
  • Incident Report Form (with s.o.a.p. notes on reverse)

(6. Move patient only if necessary and only trained to mitigate risk for further injury, such as securing spine: tell patient who you are and what you are doing to gain compliance: and inspect from head to toe for more signs, symptoms, and otherwise unnoticed injuries. Treat patient according to your professional medical training until patient is turned over to professional medical personnel.)

7. Clearly communicate the information in bullet points below with appropriate level of concern to 911 respondents and/or Chris Chisholm and/or the ranking on-site first aid trained supervisor. If one of the latter says it is okay to transport  the patient to the hospital in lieu of an ambulance, evacuate patient and place in vehicle without causing further injury and drive safely to the hospital. (keys are with vehicle drivers and/or hang on inside of door of nearest building).

  • Mechanism of Injury
  • Chief Complaint
  • Other Signs & Symptoms
  • Patient History
  • LOC (Level Of Consciousness on AVPU Scale: Alert & Oriented – if victim can answer who, what, where, when; Verbal – if victim can talk; Pain Responsive – if victim shows sign of feeling any strong tinge of  pain you administer; Unresponsive – review vital signs and to on to ABCDEs)
  • Vital Signs (Heart rate and quality: Respiratory rate and quality; Skin color, temperature and moisture; Capillary refill time; Pupil response; Lung sounds)

8. Monitor patient every 10 minutes using s.o.a.p. notes and practice communicating the information listed in above bullet points for when professional medical personnel take over, or until Chris Chisholm and/or the ranking on-site first aid trained supervisor says it’s okay to cease monitoring,

9. Have responsible person secure bystanders occupied well away from scene, but receive as much information from witnesses as possible and write down their contact info.

10. Fill out Incident Report Form, and if opposite side (s.o.a.p. notes) is needed by emergency medical personnel, give it to them, then fill out another Incident Report Form, sign and turn in to Chris Chisholm.  Give no comment to media nor unfriendly bystanders.

Missing Persons Response Procedure

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is the best place to familiarize yourself with the awful situation of dealing with missing persons, and the Wolf College mitigation policy is based on their recommendations to avoid these situations. Our response policy is based on a policy they developed with the Office of Juvenile Justice & Deliquency Prevention (pdf). These are excellent foundations for creating your own policy regarding missing adults, and you should also add mitigation plans for specific populations if any of your clients are senior citizens, people with disabilities, or those who have experienced past trauma.

Threatening Behaviors Response Procedure

Universities have the most accessible online information about dealing with threatening behavior. Chadron State College and RMIT University have good descriptions on how to handle threatening students, and you can incorporate that into your own leadership mitigation plan.

You should also incorporate information from U.S. Homeland Security about how to prevent, and respond to, active shooters. They have a pretty good section on what to do when the police arrive (pdf). Sadly, this is something that most information sources do not go into. Last, we’ve incorporated information from one of our favorite preparedness essays entitled Dealing with PESTS.

Natural Disaster Response Procedure

To get started on your natural disasters mitigation plan, check out your Department of Emergency Management list of regional hazards and recommended response to hazards. For an example of how to create a policy format, here’s what we do:

Title:          Natural Disaster Plan

Context:   The American Camping Association advises a plan for “natural disasters that are typical of the area (e.g., storms, earthquakes, wildfires, floods), as well as emergencies such as power outages and other local threats. Emergency procedures should be specific to the site, staffing, type of camp operation, and clientele. The complexity of procedures will vary based on camp location, type of operation, staff responsibility for supervision of individuals, and availability and responsibility of staff when rental groups are present. Procedures should include contact of local officials in SF.3.”

Policy:       Wolf College will maintain and rehearse with staff, students and other participants a plan to respond appropriately to natural disasters, including building and site evacuation procedures.





Animal Encounters Safety Procedure

Unless you are in an area where statistically, animal attacks are a real threat, you don’t have to worry about this issue. I know that statement comes as a surprise to most people, since it’s one of the first things people ask about. Just yesterday, I was talking with a prospective camp parent, and she didn’t even “bat an eye” when I said we would be transporting campers over the North Cascades Mountains in a van.

But when I mentioned that we would end up tracking in the territory of the nearest wolf pack to Seattle, she asked with suspicion if that was safe. I explained to her that more people would die today in car accidents than have ever died by wolf attack. If you are in an area with one of the Top 15 animals below, you should develop a risk management plan for them. Here they are: the stats for the most North American deaths caused by wild animals (please note that domestic dogs are way higher than these, and not included, so be sure to have a separate plan in place for dealing with dogs):

  1. Rattlesnakes, Coral Snake, Copperheads (many by people handling them on purpose)
  2. Polar Bear
  3. Grizzly Bear (5/yr)
  4. Moose (5/yr)
  5. Brown Recluse & Hobo Spiders; Scorpions
  6. Sharks (2/yr)
  7. Captive Wild Animal (2/yr)
  8. Black Bear (1/yr)
  9. Alligator (1/yr on golf courses mostly)
  10. Bison (1/yr)
  11. Elk (1/yr)
  12. Orcas & Other Dolphins (1/yr flips kayaker, etc.)
  13. Swans & Other Large Waterfowl (do not get near their beaks)
  14. Cougar: There have been 24 deaths caused by mountain lions in recorded history – only 3 since the year 2000 and none since 2008. If you know what to do around cougars, they won’t inflict severe harm.
  15. Mountain Goats & Sheep (most recent was a Mountain Goat in the Olympic Mountains)
  16. Deer (kicking)
  17. Coyote (5 historically in North America)
  18. Raccoons (like all wild animals, do not feed)
  19. Wolves (1 or 2 wild attacks/deaths in the recorded history of North America, depending on where you attribute blame; other deaths were by captive/pet wolves, and possibly some by rabies during pioneer days, which are not counted for any animal on this list)
  20. Wolverines & Large Weasels
  21. Skunks, Bats & Other Rabies Carriers (used to happen a lot, now rarely)

Article author Chris Chisholm is founder and co-owner of Wolf Camp and the Conservation College. If you would like to practice these skills with Chris and other staff instructors, join any of our 5 Day Summer Expedition Trainings such as the Outdoor Leadership Training Expedition: Backpacking into Wolf Country and our Teaching Nature: Professional Training for Future Environmental Educators.

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