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RichardB

Regulating Fall Risks and Nature

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Once again, we are losing sight of relative risk.

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Forest rangers have struggled to keep the growing crowds safe. They estimate the falls see 100,000 visitors a year, a tenfold increase from a quarter century ago.

Eight fatal accidents since 1992,  a 10-fold increase in visitors. It sounds like the rate of visitor fatalities is plummeting. Kudos to the rangers' hard work.

I think it is important for the public to know of fatalities that have occurred in a given area. High traffic areas need to be hardened. But, I think we need to soberly recognize that with more people comes more adverse events ... albeit fewer per person.

For our scouts and scouters, I think there is something to "safe photography" training. We need to show them how Bear Grylls gets some of those cliffhanger shots without actually hanging from a cliff (at least not every time).

Edited by qwazse
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Good post.

My wife broke her ankle on a trail hike near Hana Hawaii. During a frank discussion with the doctor who was treating her, he said his bread and butter where hiking injuries. Tourists come from the mainland with a, what he called, a "Disney Land" frame of mind. Meaning that most tourist from the US mainland are accustomed to sanitized risks. There are many danger signs everywhere in our culture, but liability has forced us to add additional safety with equipment like railings, paved paths, hand holds, and so on, to reduce the risk of accidents. We have become so accustomed to low accident rates as a result of the signs and additional safety that we don't respect the risk they prevent. So, when we tourist from the mainland visit areas outside of the mainland, we assume a higher level of security that isn't there. Thus, the result is a lot of accidents. Our doctor said the Hana emergency rescue professionals risk their lives retrieving many fatalities every year because hikers ignore the many signs that say "Stay on the trail", or "Do not go past this point". Hawaii is a volcanic island of very rough and very sharp rocky terrain, so falling even just a few feet causes a serious enough injury that he said often leads to fatalities because of the time required for rescuers to reach the location.

As a youth in scouts, I learned a lot about recognizing dangers in the woods and environments that we visited, and the importance of training for those dangers. I mentioned recently that while I was already a petty good water skier in my youth, the Water Ski MB taught me a lot about boat safety while pulling a skier. I taught those same safety habits to my friends and family over the years.

I agree with qwazse that scouting should be the go to program for learning the dangers of the environments we visit and provide the safety training for those environments.

Barry

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We see this in the UK quite a lot as well. 

Our highest mountain Ben Nevis, modest by your standards (4400 feet), is very easily accessible from the town of Fort William unlike many of the more remote mountains. There is also an easy to access and navigate path to the top which was built in the 19th century to service an old observatory that was built at the top. The combination of the two means that we get many people hiking to the top who simply don't understand the potential dangers. The summit is lost in the cloud typically 300+ days a year and is typically 12-15C colder than the town of Fort William. The result is that moutain rescue are continously coming to the aid of people who go up poorly equiped and not experienced.

The point about the cloud is particularly important. To get from the summit back to the path you need to walk on a bearing and take a dog leg to avoid Gardyloo Gully. A few photos should show why you really REALLY don't want to stumble across it unwittingly! Other get cold, wet, get hypothermia, twist ankles without proper boots, you name it it happens.

Learning the basics in something like scouts or guides could really save people an awful lot of pain and Fort William mountain rescue team an awful lot of time and money!

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Humans can be terrible at properly assigning risks.  The reasons for this are diverse and one of the more fascinating areas of psychology and human cognitive behavior.  What we have here is an example of people assessing risk based on the behavior they see in others.  If a person sees lots of other people doing something they then assume it's safe, if they see fewer people doing something they then assume it's risky --- even though both assessments are made in the absence of quantitative data.

This is how you get foolish ideas like "lots of people climbing on slippery rocks on a cliff means its safe for me to do it"  and the equally foolish " lots of people have become reluctant to let their adolescent offspring go unsupervised by adults, so we need a rule that says a patrol of scouts can no longer go anywhere unsupervised by adults."

Our proper response as a society is to build institutions that can overcome these instinctual assessments.  When it's clear that something is riskier than the group behavior would indicate, we need to put up signs and fences so that we use different cues to assess risk.  When a behavior is safe even though undertaken by a few our institutions SHOULD act to overcome our fears not to reinforce them. 

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1 hour ago, T2Eagle said:

Humans can be terrible at properly assigning risks.  The reasons for this are diverse and one of the more fascinating areas of psychology and human cognitive behavior.  What we have here is an example of people assessing risk based on the behavior they see in others.  If a person sees lots of other people doing something they then assume it's safe, if they see fewer people doing something they then assume it's risky --- even though both assessments are made in the absence of quantitative data.

This is how you get foolish ideas like "lots of people climbing on slippery rocks on a cliff means its safe for me to do it"  and the equally foolish " lots of people have become reluctant to let their adolescent offspring go unsupervised by adults, so we need a rule that says a patrol of scouts can no longer go anywhere unsupervised by adults."

Our proper response as a society is to build institutions that can overcome these instinctual assessments.  When it's clear that something is riskier than the group behavior would indicate, we need to put up signs and fences so that we use different cues to assess risk.  When a behavior is safe even though undertaken by a few our institutions SHOULD act to overcome our fears not to reinforce them. 

Interesting post, thanks.

Mrs. Barry and I brought home a new puppy to replace our Australian Shepard we recently lost to old age. My son brought our 2.5 year old granddaughter over to see the new puppy, but she was suddenly distracted by a ladder I left up after installing a ceiling fan. To her dad's (and grand parent's) surprise, she quickly ran strait to the ladder and climbed halfway up before her dad could get close enough to be a safety net. 

Later, my son said watching his daughter run to the ladder so quickly was the first time he understood his parent's concerns for when he took off to ride his bike down a hill as fast as he could go, or climb up large boulders at the state park. My response, "your daughter hasn't earned the scar under her chin yet", caught him a bit off guard. He paused for a minute, then smiled and asked her to go play with the puppy. In that moment, the puppy was safer.:o

Thanks again T2eagle, I enjoyed the post.

Barry

 

Edited by Eagledad

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So to me it seems the primary issue here is the continuing separation of society from nature.  People living in big cities, with limited skills, are being drawn to the woods.  If you live in northern Illinois go to Starved Rock State Park on any given summer Saturday and you'll see the same thing.  But, I'd argue it's not a technology problem or a nature problem, mostly it's a complacency problem.

I get the opportunity to ride the Chicagoland metro every day for my commute.  Every train platform has bright yellow lines on the deck, most have two feet or so of bright yellow deck plate running along the edge of the platform.  There are announcements and signs to stay behind the yellow line for your safety.  But as soon as the train warning bells are heard or an arrival announcement is made, there will be at least a couple of people who walk out to the edge of the platform and stick their head out to see if the train is really coming.  You see the same thing around at-grade railroad crossing.  Big signs, bells, bright flashing red lights, people drive around anyway.  Same for the 20-something man or woman racing down the highway at 100 mph weaving in and out of traffic.  The odds they have the skills to drive like that are indistinguishable from zero.  I write all that to say people are complacent in familiar environments and no amount of warning signs will make a difference.

So we get to the "fixes" put in place at this park.  Building a stair case for example. We already know the risk takers will continue to take the risks, climb over the railings, etc.  The fixes might make thing more dangerous for them.  I have to wonder how many people came up to the base of those falls before the fix, saw the climb, and turned away thinking it wasn't worth the risk.  But now, with a shiny new stair case, will those same people, who still have no business climbing up, make a different decision?  Will they be lulled into a sense of complacency because of the familiar stair case and hand rail? 

 

Edited by walk in the woods

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When I was in college and went camping with some friends, some had experience and some didn't, that's when I realized what I had learned as a scout. Part of that was respecting nature. Everyone knew that lightning, steep slopes and fast streams were a danger but those with experience had more respect for the warnings. I believe the reason we had that respect was due to the training we had as scouts. Whether it be for guns or making fires or some scouter just talking to us, we learned that there was a right way and wrong way to approach a situation that could be dangerous. This is why I'd much rather see the risk prevention people push training over simple rules that prevent scouts from learning. I used to live in the Bay Area and every year there were/are stories of people swimming in pools above water falls and getting sucked over and falling hundreds of feet. I never saw anyone say a scout did that.

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Encouraging scouts to plan and experience more adventure will help develop not just outdoor ethics, but also outdoor safety. The more we encourage scouts to push to the next level the better. We do a disservice if we hold them back and only allow plop camping and disallow exploration and adventure. While boys are naturally curious and adventuresome, they also have innate fears which help them take small steps instead of too big, but only if it is they who do the planning and execution. IMO, the worst thing bsa has done in the last 20 years is not gays or girls it is the requirement of adults on all campouts and activities. 

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This quote from the story says it all to me:

“There is always going to be someone that’s going to try to be more daring and go out, beyond where the stairs are, or say, ‘Hey look at me — look what I can do.’”

I'm not going to point the finger at selfies.  I'm not going to point the finger at increased crowds of people.  I'm not going to point the finger at lack of fences, lack of signs, lack of respect for nature.  

This is not a new phenomena - things like this have been happening since the beginning - and have been reported as the follies and foibles of people since at least the 1800's, if not earlier.  I've had the chance to read newspaper stories from the 1800's and they're full of tales about people getting too close to waterfalls, cliff edges, etc. and getting killed or seriously hurt, and those stories often have an implied "this was foolish" bent to them.  Look beyond the sensationalized stories about people deliberately going over Niagara Falls and you'll find lots of stories about people getting to close to the edge and slipping in accidentally.  I live near Starved Rock State Park in Illinois and at least one a year, there is a story about someone falling into one of the canyons because that didn't let the fence or warning signs warn them not to go beyond the fence.  We even have stories of Boy Scouts and their leaders doing stupid things like this - and we allegedly try to train them to be more respectful of nature and of warning signs. 

This has been happening long before the invention of cell phone cameras and selfie sticks. Look diligently enough and you'll find plenty of photos deliberately taken to show the warning signs that they are standing behind.  I'm convinced that we can building 25 foot tall clear plexiglass walls in front of canyon views and there will be some people who will figure out a way to climb  over them or somehow get on the other side of them in either a "look at me" moment or a "walls are for other people" moment.

And while I agree with Matt that the more experience you have in the outdoors, the more likely you are to respect the dangers of the outdoors and the power of nature, the truth is that even experienced outdoorspeople sometimes lose focus and do something dumb (otherwise there wouldn't be "survival stories" in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life or Backpacker Magazine by experienced outdoorspeople).

The fact is that the outdoors, and the indoors, - no scratch that - that LIFE is risky - and we can do all kinds of things to try to make it less risky but no matter what we do, you can't fix stupid.  This article tries to find reasons for these things but all it ready does is, like so many similar articles before it, point out a permanent aspect of human nature.  There never would have been "The Darwin Awards" if not for the human propensity for those moments that are often proceeded by "Hey, look at me", or "Watch this" or "Hold my beer".

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16 hours ago, MattR said:

When I was in college and went camping with some friends, some had experience and some didn't, that's when I realized what I had learned as a scout. Part of that was respecting nature. Everyone knew that lightning, steep slopes and fast streams were a danger but those with experience had more respect for the warnings. I believe the reason we had that respect was due to the training we had as scouts. Whether it be for guns or making fires or some scouter just talking to us, we learned that there was a right way and wrong way to approach a situation that could be dangerous. This is why I'd much rather see the risk prevention people push training over simple rules that prevent scouts from learning. I used to live in the Bay Area and every year there were/are stories of people swimming in pools above water falls and getting sucked over and falling hundreds of feet. I never saw anyone say a scout did that.

A memory from over 20 years ago....

As a scout and venture scout I had been on a series of mountaineering courses run by my scout county in the scottish highlands which covered, among many things, avalanche awareness and how to assess a given slope for avalanche hazard.

I went on a trip to the Cairngorms in Scotland with my university mountaineering club one February. The group I set out with initially seemed competent. The first steep slope we encountered they took a long look at and dug an avalanche pit and we all agreed that it was safe to head up. So far so good. Note that this was a north facing slope.

Later in the day we came to another slope, this time east facing, which we needed to traverse. If you have any avalanche training you'll know that the aspect of the slope, ie what direction it faces, is one of the most important factors in assessing risk. Also that traversing a risky slope is inherently more risky than going up or down it. In addition to this it had every visible risk factor imaginable. There were no rocks sticking up, so clearly deep snow,  was on a leeward facing aspect, it had a funny looking off white tinge to it, made a strange "woomping sound" under foot and slaps about 4 inches thick were sheering off. In all it looked pretty dangerous. I pointed this out to the group I was with but they were convinced that they had done all the risk assessing they needed to do earlier in the day and merrily set off across it. I chose not to, instead I took a detour and met up with them later.

Now the fact is that they got across that slope perfectly safely. However... according to the scottish avalanche info service that whole slope colapsed a couple of days later. Thankfully no one was on it when it happened. It was clear though that some of the club members, many of who had, at least on paper, a hell of a lot more experience than me, really seemed to have missed the point on risk assessment.

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Just wait.

All scouts will be required to be in bubble wrap and inflatable safety bubbles. With no less than 10 registered adult leaders for any event.

Adventure = risk.  We are raising are youth to be risk adverse. No wonder membership is declineing.

Safety is a factor,  but should not be used to suck all the fun out of everything.

 

Edited by Kryten
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36 minutes ago, Kryten said:

Just wait.

All scouts will be required to be in bubble wrap and inflatable safety bubbles. ...

Good news. BSA addressed inflatable safety bubbles last year ...

 

 

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Sometimes we need to be reminded of perspective.  I've often offered up the undisputable fact when someone is arguing for or against the relative risk of a scouting activity... that more than likely the most dangerous thing we do in scouting is riding in a vehicle, for multiple hours at a time, with other non scout drivers on the same roads....

The most dangerous thing we EVER do in scouts (by far) is driving to and from scouting events... and no one thinks twice about it.

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24 minutes ago, DeanRx said:

Sometimes we need to be reminded of perspective.  I've often offered up the undisputable fact when someone is arguing for or against the relative risk of a scouting activity... that more than likely the most dangerous thing we do in scouting is riding in a vehicle, for multiple hours at a time, with other non scout drivers on the same roads....

The most dangerous thing we EVER do in scouts (by far) is driving to and from scouting events... and no one thinks twice about it.

It took my wife a few years to realize how safe I actually am on my outdoor adventures, even the more "extreme" ones. In the early years, I would tell her the most dangerous part of my trip was the drive to/from the trailhead. I would sometimes text her when I got back to my car with... "out of the woods, back in danger." 

 

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