Safety first!

The world was on the edge of its seat last week over the fate of twelve young men  and their coach in Thailand. They had decided to visit a cave following soccer practice one day, and a sudden rainstorm flooded the cave and trapped them deep inside. A literal army of thousands of military and volunteers took extraordinary measures to rescue them after days of worry and hope. The technical skill, preparation and good fortune came together and, except for one rescuer who perished,  everyone was brought out safely.

Besides happily hearing the good news, my thoughts turned to what if this had happened to a Scout outing. After all, Scouts do some pretty adventurous things – caving being one of them. One of our troop’s most memorable weekend outings, and one they’ve done several times, is a cave exploration experience in Pennsylvania. I can confirm that, even with experienced guides leading us, it’s dark and spooky in there, with no light and only narrow passageways to get in and out.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and it could be argued that the Thai boys shouldn’t have gone there in the first place. But outings like that can be done safely if we take the necessary precautions. Baden-Powell’s words of advice to Be Prepared are never more important than when undertaking a potentially risky activity. That’s why the Boy Scouts of America has lots of rules relating to safety, starting with the Guide to  Safe Scouting (which has a succinct chart [PDF] saying what is and isn’t allowed) and encompassing multiple guidebooks and training courses.

The first one that comes to mind is principle number one of Leave No Trace, which is Plan ahead and prepare. It includes planning for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies. These sorts of things can come up whether you’re climbing, caving or just hiking in a county park. Remember that Hazardous Weather Training offered through the BSA’s online training portal is required for at least one person on any trip or activity, and is now required for leaders to qualify as position trained. All leaders should take the training every two years to remain current.

In addition to the standard Youth Protection Training course, there are specialized courses for various Scouting activities that must be completed by leaders in charge of those activities:

  • Safety Afloat for outings involving watercraft
  • Safe Swim Defense for supervising youth taking part in aquatics activities
  • Climb On Safely for climbing, ropes courses or activities at height
  • Trek Safely for adventures into the backcountry
  • Drive Safely to increase awareness of hazards and safety while driving Scouts to and from outings

These supplemental courses can be accessed by anyone, registered or not, through the Learning Center at my.scouting.org. Even if you are not directly involved in these activities, it would be beneficial to complete them when you have time.

And for those who are planning a remote high adventure,  the Wilderness First Aid course is a must. This sixteen-hour course is only taught in person (not online), mainly through the American Red Cross. Contact your council for details on courses near you. (A good way to hook up with your district staff is at your monthly Roundtable gathering.)

Safety is everyone’s responsibility – registered leaders, parents, and the Scouts themselves. By knowing the standards that the BSA expects us to uphold, we can help prevent our units from accidentally becoming a news story.

Image: Center for Wilderness Safety


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