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There are five things to remember before going outdoors. A recent news article discusses the rescue of an injured hiker in Colorado back in July. Jeffery Ashby is a retired NASA astronaut who decided to go on a high altitude hike by himself at Colorado’s La Plata Peak. He slipped and fell 500 feet down the mountain. The location where his fall stopped put him in an area that required an airlift rescue operation. Somewhere during the fall, he broke both of his legs. He survived his fall and injuries and was later rescued by a helicopter crew from the nearby Army National Guard aviation training center.

Jeff is a retired military person in excellent shape for being sixty-five years old. He was well prepared and familiar with the area he was hiking. However, July 16, 2019, would not be an average hike. The story reminds us that on any given day, we can find ourselves in an emergency survival situation in the backcountry.

Many people love to go outdoors for recreational purposes. The early fall season brings many hunters to the backcountry to hunt deer and elk. People are trying to get those last multi-day backpacking trips in before the snows come. Other people want to take that last weekend camping trip before the weather turns bad. Therefore, we should remember the following principles to help increase our chances of rescue in an outdoor emergency.

1. Get As Much Knowledge As Possible About Your Outdoor Location

It is advisable to do as much research to gain as much knowledge as possible about the place you intend to go for your outdoor activity. One possible way to accomplish this is to search for news stories about the desired location. For example, some areas have a concentration of incidents of missing people. Is this a place you want to go for an outdoor adventure?

Another way to gain knowledge about an area is to talk to the local park rangers. My son and I went hiking in a nearby state park. The park ranger informed me that there were only two of them working the park and rescue in an emergency would require an airlift. That was a great tip and could only be gained by talking to someone at the site. He also informed me that there are areas where rock slides occur. Again, great insight from someone working in the area.

2. Prepare Yourself and Your Gear

It needs to be said to remind you to prepare yourself and your gear before going into the wilderness. Jeff Ashby was ready for his adventure, and he still experienced an emergency survival situation. His preparation saved his life due to having a working headlamp. It was used as a signal device in the pre-dawn darkness to gain attention from other hikers passing by his location. If Jeff’s headlamp batteries were dead, he might not have gotten noticed and eventually rescued.

Preparing yourself also means knowing your physical and health limitations. My dad related a story about a man that he worked with who died of heart failure on a hunting trip. The hunter was not the epitome of physical fitness. He was walking on a slight incline for several miles, then fell dead from a heart attack, according to one of his hunting partners. Therefore, know if your physical fitness and health can handle a particular location, especially if the area is above eight thousand feet in elevation.

3. Develop and Distribute A Communication Plan

A third thing to remember is to develop and distribute your communication plan. In a previous article, I discussed the PACE method for preparing your gear. The acronym PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. It is a technique developed by infantry and special forces personal to create multiple ways to maintain communication with each other and their field headquarters. This method is an excellent tool to develop your communication plan.

Your communication plan should also include a timeline for checking in and to whom you will make those checks. For example, you may wish to send a text message to your designated recipients every two or three hours. Additionally, your communication plan should also include how to contact first responders, the park ranger station, and significant others, such as parents or your spouse. Once you have developed your communication plan, distribute it to those with whom you will communicate. Everyone in your group should have a copy of your communication plan in case you get separated.

Sample Communication Plan

4. Develop and Rehearse An Emergency Plan

After developing a communication plan, it is advisable to create and rehearse an emergency plan before you head out to the outdoors. Your emergency plan does not have to be elaborate and complicated. It can be as simple as developing a first option and a second option if things go wrong in the field. The emergency communication plan should be part of your planning process. Everyone in your group should be familiar with and understand the emergency plan before heading out to your chosen location.

One particular story that I read recently illustrates the need for developing and rehearsing an emergency plan. A group of hunters was hunting near Rainbow Lake in Colorado when a sudden blizzard hit the area. The hunters were separated at the time. Three of the four made it back to camp. When they realized one of their friends was missing, they went out again to look for him only to nearly succumb to the weather themselves. The story relates the need to develop and rehearse an emergency plan.

5. Avoid Going Outdoors Alone

One of the more important aspects of outdoor adventures is not going out alone, if at all possible. Hunters like to go off by themselves, even if they are with others. It is even more crucial that an emergency plan is in place when such a scenario exists. Backpackers and recreational hikers also like to go out alone. Many of the disappearances, mishaps, and fatalities in the outdoors occurs when the unfortunate ones are by themselves. The US Army sees the need for soldiers not to go anywhere by themselves and developed the battle buddy method to ensure the safety and security of soldiers. Experienced or recreational outdoorsmen should always have a partner when going into the outdoors.

Final Thoughts

The fall season can be an excellent time to spend outdoors. The changing color of the leaves and the crispness of the cold morning air make being outdoors all the more pleasant. Remembering to be safe and prepared increases your chances for a great time outdoors. Knowledge of your intended location, preparing yourself and your gear, developing a communication plan, developing an emergency plan, and going out with a partner or group will cut down on the chances of a mishap outdoors. As we enter the end of the year, let us enjoy our outdoor adventures with friends and family.

You can assess a survival situation in 3 easy steps. This assessment is based on the military understanding of estimating a situation. The definition of the phrase, estimate of the situation, is, “A process of reasoning by which a commander considers all the circumstances affecting the military situation and arrives at a decision as to a course of action to be taken to accomplish the mission.” (Joint Publication 3-0). Thus, a working definition of assessing a survival situation is a process of reasoning by which a person considers all the circumstances affecting survival and arrives at a decision and course of action that will enable survival through emergency or life-threatening conditions.

1. Analyze Your Current Circumstances

The critical step to gaining an accurate assessment of your situation is to analyze your current circumstances. This means that you need to get a proper evaluation of yourself, your environment, your resources, and your equipment. Your ability to accurately grasp these critical areas will set the conditions for the other steps of gaining situational awareness. So let’s look at these areas briefly.

Assessing Yourself

Health

The most critical subtask within this step is to analyze yourself. In an emergency survival situation, your age, health or level of physical fitness is vital to making it through the adversity. If you are injured and immobile, you will not go very far. You must assess, at that point, what is the level of injury or immobility? Then, you must determine if you have the means or capability to remedy the injury or the immobility. Thus, those who have an accurate understanding of themselves and their abilities will make decisions within those limitations.

Physical Fitness

As well, if your physical fitness is weak, you may find yourself reaching an obstacle of terrain that will stop your continued movement towards rescue. An excellent example of this kind of limitation is in the movie, The Grey. A survivor falls to their death while attempting to cross a ravine because they did not have the strength to hold on to a strap strung across the expanse. An ex-Army Ranger from Vietnam gave testimony that those who survived the jungle warfare of Vietnam were those who had the best physical fitness. He went on to say that those that were out of shape were the first to die in combat.

Abilities

Moreover, analyzing your health needs, experience, and skills also are critical factors in preparing for emergency situations. A simple adage in military leadership manuals is to know yourself and seek self-improvement. Employing this principle means assessing yourself at all times in light of survival or preparing for emergencies. It is as simple as asking what needs to be done, can I do it, and do I have the resources to do it?

Assess Your Environment and Its Resources

Next, assessing your environment is the second subtask. It is more than just determining what kind of environment you are in. It also has a good understanding of the types of dangers and resources within that environment. For example, if you are lost in a desert, do you understand the environmental threats and available natural resources? Accurately assessing your environment means fully answering the question, “where am I”? A suitable method for understanding your environment is the following checklist:

  • Type of environment?
  • Seasonal weather conditions?
  • Environmental threats?
  • Natural resources available?

 

Assess Your Available Resources

Third, assessing your available resources is the next subtask. This subtask is different than evaluating environmental resources. It is assessing the resources that you are carrying into the environment. In essence, it is evaluating what you have on your person or in your pack to address the essential areas of survival. Those critical areas being food, fire, water, shelter, first-aid, land navigation, communications, and security. You are assessing things such as how much water or food you have left in your backpack now that you are in an emergency situation.

Assess Your Equipment

A final subtask in this step is assessing your equipment. What equipment do you have and is it still functional? The functionality of your equipment determines how much you are going to have to rely on your survival skills and the natural resources of your environment. You must determine if your pack is ripped up or shoulder straps severed. You must evaluate the condition of your pack frame if it is external. Do you have adequate outerwear for the environment? Does your Garmin GPS or baseplate compass function? Is my fixed-blade knife dull or broken? Are the batteries dead in my headlamp? Did I forget to bring my multitool? These are the kinds of questions to answer when assessing your equipment. Therefore, after evaluating your current circumstances, it is time to make a tentative plan.

2. Make A Tentative Plan

It is essential to begin to make a tentative or rough plan after analyzing your circumstances. As the name implies, your survival plan is a rough idea based on the information you have from assessing your situation. The best way to plan is to do it as soon as possible in the survival situation. You are at your best health and fitness to make a plan at this point, if not injured or sick. Your mind is not yet clouded by hunger, lack of water, exhaustion, or exposure. Therefore, put down on paper a working idea of how you plan to effect self-recovery from your emergency situation.

Develop a Primary Plan

The first part of planning is to develop a primary plan. The primary an is the one that you are most likely going to conduct if everything goes well. The primary plan answers the five “W”s: who, what, where, when, why. It also covers “how” you are going to conduct your plan. Although you may not be able to answer every point, it is best to work through them anyway.

Develop an Alternate Plan

Developing an alternate survival plan is crucial. Soldiers call this your “When Everything Goes To Hell” plan. There are no guarantees in life. It is especially true in the outdoors. You cannot account for every possibility or circumstance. Therefore, having an alternate plan to complement the primary one is prudent. A good example of making an alternate survival plan is in the movie BAT-21, based on the book BAT-21 by William C. Anderson. Furthermore, your alternate plan also should answer the five “W”s as well as how you will conduct it.

Assess Your Plans

After making a primary and alternate plan, it is essential to assess the viability of your plans. It is helpful to do this step because you may find that you need to make adjustments. The information that you have and can glean from continually assessing your situation bears influence on your planning. For example, you plan to walk at night to avoid the heat of the summer days. However, you modify your plan because of the weather changes. Instead of walking at night, now, your movements will be during the day, at least temporarily. Thus, it is important to continually assess your plans and make adjustments as new information or circumstances arise.

3. Conduct Your Plan

Finally, the third step in estimating your situation is conducting your survival plan. An essential aspect of conducting your survival plan is to be flexible. Your plan is a guide not a lock-step answer to your emergency scenario. The longer that you are in the emergency survival situation, you will make more adjustments to your plan as you go. Observing the survival stories of others reveals that critical decisions have to be made at some point. For example, you may have to start a brush fire to attract the attention of search and rescue teams.

Some Final Thoughts

Situational awareness is an essential aspect of emergency survival in any environment. The three steps are easy to remember: analyze your circumstances, make a plan, conduct your plan. It is helpful to train your mind to think through the subtasks as a kind of checklist. People in an emergency survival situation are under a significant amount of mental and emotional stress, even if they do not panic. It becomes difficult to devote a lot of time to thinking analytically and solve problems in a survival situation. It is recommended that you begin to think through these steps as a practice as a matter of habit before your next outdoor adventure. The more these steps become second nature to you, the less you have to intentionally think through them step-by-step when in a high-stress emergency situation.

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