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Risk Management

Concussion Recognition and Treatment in the Backcountry

By Kate Javes September 9, 2022

Wilderness Medicine Training

Concussion recognition and treatment has gotten a lot of attention over the last decade, mostly in the context of youth and professional sports such as tackle football and soccer. It’s even a topic for those who serve in our armed forces. However, confusion over its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment remains widespread. 

In an interview with a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times, former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre, who was knocked out cold only once in his 20-year career, claimed that “probably 90 percent” of the tackles he endured left him with a concussion.

He’s most likely correct in that estimation. After all, the definition of “concussion” is broad: “A concussion is a brain injury, a disturbance in brain function induced by traumatic forces, either from a direct blow to the head or a transmitted force from a blow to the body.” It disrupts brain function at the cellular metabolic level but does not result in major structural damage. Conventional MRI or CT scanning will not show evidence of a concussion.

So, how do you know if you or someone else has suffered a concussion while in the backcountry? And, after having made that determination, what should be done? Having clear answers to these two questions is essential for successful recovery and to prevent long-term cognitive and psychological complications. This is true no matter where the concussion takes place, but especially in the backcountry where medical treatment from a full-time team is unavailable. (more…)

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Avoiding Target Fixations and Incident Pits in the Backcountry

By Stephen Mullaney August 29, 2022

Risk Management

“Look where you want to go!” 

I have conveyed this message to wilderness course participants countless times, shouting, screaming, and using hand signals when necessary. Sometimes I’m yelling above the roar of a set of rapids or the sound of an adjacent waterfall. 

“Look where you want to go!”

I emphatically issue the same advice while watching climbers rappelling down a cliff, or verbally guiding a student on a mountain bike through a sketchy section of trail. In each case, the point of my shouting is to get the students to stop looking at the obstacle. 

“Look where you want to go” really translates as “Stop looking at the obstacle! Don’t fixate on the hazard!”

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Wilderness First Responder approaching the scene of a backcountry incident, or a student on a wilderness course attempting to navigate a perceived hazard or obstacle, looking too closely at a hazard you want to avoid can be very dangerous.

At first glance — no pun intended — you might think it wise to actually look closely at the hazard you want to avoid. No argument there. You absolutely need to identify obstacles, especially in the backcountry and other places considered Wilderness. In fact, identifying an obstacle is a key factor in remaining safe. 

But here’s the thing: (more…)

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The Role of the Wilderness First Responder During Water Rescues

By Kate Javes July 22, 2022

Wilderness Medicine Training

It may surprise you to learn that drownings — along with heart attacks and falls — are among the leading causes of death for those who venture into the wilderness for recreation or education in the United States.

Statistics show that there are nearly 4,000 fatal drownings each year in the United States, with a little more than 8,000 nonfatal drownings. These figures include boating-related drownings. In fact, the threat of drowning is so prevalent that the first edition of the NCOAE Wilderness Medicine Field Guide devotes an entire section to Environmental Submersion and Drowning Injury.

Of course, it’s during the spring and summer that most outdoor explorers are on the water, including those participating in backcountry expeditions. Lakes, rivers and streams provide much-needed relief in the backcountry on a hot August afternoon and are sought-after destinations for many outdoor enthusiasts.

For those training to become Wilderness First Responders (WFR) and those participating in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training, a major consideration is assisting with medical emergencies that occur on or near the water.  (more…)

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Applying the Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ to Daily Life in an Urban Setting

By NCOAE Headquarters June 27, 2022

Uncategorized

What is Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”

Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through an educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.

What is The Importance of Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.

Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. The well-known LNT’s principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

You can read more about LNT in the wilderness here. But what about the majority of the time when most of us are not roughing it in the backcountry? Can we incorporate these seven principles into our daily lives? Can we bring such environmental awareness into an urban or front-country setting? We like to think so!

How can you practice the Leave No Trace principles in your everyday life?

Some of us here at NCOAE headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., discussed the possibilities of applying backcountry Leave No Trace principles in everyday living, and here’s what we came up with.

7 Ways to ‘Leave No Trace’ in Everyday Life

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Before you head out — whether it’s for a wilderness expedition or an afternoon at a local park or on local trails — thoroughly research the weather; plan meals carefully; check local regulations for closures or burn bands. And choose to bring along re-usable products as much as possible.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: When spending time in the front country or heading out for a leisurely walk in a local park or rec area, stay on existing trails and pathways. This helps avoid damage to the local environment and wildlife. When commuting, consider using public transportation or carpool whenever possible. Or ride your bike on designated paths and roads.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Have a system in place for your waste whether it’s at home or on a trip. Recycle appropriate items as much as possible. Swap one-use products with reusable products when you can. And donate clothing, furniture, and other household items instead of throwing them away.

4. Leave What You Find: Sure, it’s tempting to touch or pick up insects, or examine shells, rocks, shellfish and historical structures. But here’s an alternative: Take a photo instead. You don’t disturb the flora and fauna, and you have something to show your family and friends.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Since it’s not likely you’ll be building a lot of campfires in your everyday life at home, become more aware of your energy use. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Open windows instead of hitting the A/C wall unit. Turn off the hose while soaping up your car. And when you do light up your backyard fire pit, be sure to check local fire restrictions, keep fires small, don’t burn trash, and make sure the fire is completely out when done.

6. Respect Wildlife: Raccoons and squirrels are cute. No doubt about that. But don’t approach wild animals, even when they’re in the front country, and never feed them. Also, don’t leave food or belongings where animals could get it, keep trashcan lids on tight at all times, and control your pets. You want to help city critters? Learn about what vegetation they consume and plant those edibles that help them thrive.

7. Be Considerate of Others: Avoid blocking walkways and paths, obey rules and closures, minimize your noise, certainly don’t litter, and pick up the trash you see on the ground. These daily habitat habits don’t require a lot of thought or effort, but they do go a long way toward making our own personal environment a lot more livable.

To discover other stories about Leave No Trace and to further your understanding, check out similar blogs here.

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Hurricane Florence Turns NCOAE Staff into Storm Troopers

By NCOAE Headquarters September 11, 2018

Risk Management

Say what you will about global warming, climate change and other hemispheric anomalies, but there’s no question in anybody’s mind that a Category 4 hurricane is making a direct bullseye run at Wilmington, N.C., and The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) headquarters facilities.

The good news is that our staff have all become bona fide experts in matters related to risk management. Our co-founders Zac and Celine Adair — along with the rest of our hometown administrative team — are hard at work preparing our coastal headquarters for a direct hit from this latest storm which you can track online through the National Hurricane Center.

Here on our campus, NCOAE staff has spent the last 36 hours preparing for the worst possible outcome — a direct hit. Buildings have been boarded up, all outdoor furniture and materials capable of being turned into life-threatening projectiles have been removed from the property, which ‘as the crow flies’ is located just a mile from the Carolina coastline.

NCOAE vans have been packed up with a (more…)

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2 Words When Natural Disaster Threatens Your Outdoor Campus: Be Prepared

By NCOAE Headquarters September 6, 2017

Risk Management

For those of us who work day in and day out at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education’s (NCOAE) headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., tropical storms and hurricanes are part of our environment.

Just last year, Hurricane Matthew paid our campus a visit — right in the middle of a three-week campus-based course. But just like the Boy Scouts, we place a great deal of stock in their motto: Be Prepared.

By the time that hurricane came roaring through, we had battened down the hatches at our headquarters facilities and moved everyone enrolled in the three-week training to the Raleigh Durham area where they finished out their course. By communicating that potential change far enough in advance, no one was surprised. Our students finished their certification program on time and were safe in doing so.

And now Hurricane Irma looms on the horizon, threatening to make landfall along our coastline sometime next week. According to the latest National Hurricane Center reports, Florida could face direct impacts, with potential paths for the storms including a move further east to encompass the Carolinas and the East Coast. Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for the Florida Keys.

Outdoor education programs — especially those accredited by the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) — are well versed on what to do in the case of a backcountry emergency or disaster. But how do you prepare for a natural disaster on your own property?

Below are 14 tips that we undertake and suggest for other outdoor education programs facing a disaster that might affect their properties: (more…)

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What’s Your Plan if Your Wilderness Group Becomes Lost?

By Stephen Mullaney December 16, 2016

Risk Management

In the 1997 film “The Edge,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, the pair find themselves lost in the Alaskan wilderness following a plane crash.

The Hopkins character tells the other man that most people who become lost in the wild die of shame. “They say, ‘What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this? And so they sit there and they die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives — thinking.”

Great movie, with the protagonists stalked by a Kodiak bear, but the question it raises is this: It’s easy to feel lost, but have you ever really been lost?

Lost in wilderness

Sitting in with a group of wilderness instructors, you’ll sometimes hear personal stories of temporarily losing their way on the trail, and many of our students tell stories of “getting lost” while leading their peers.

One definition of truly being lost means “having to be found by others.” But if you find your way back to your group or destination on your own, maybe you were just “feeling lost” and then your wilderness skills kicked in to get you back safely.

However you define it, we all need to refresh our knowledge of knowing our way around the backcountry.

When Feeling Lost and Alone

Below are some tips on what to do if you (more…)

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Reducing Backcountry Risk Requires Planning and Assessment

By Stephen Mullaney November 7, 2016

Risk Management

Here’s an outdoor educator’s nightmare: You’re walking through the woods and you spot a bunch of teens climbing barefoot on a rocky cliff leading to water. Other inexperienced campers clumsily tend a campfire that is about to get out of control. Still others in this group stand waist-deep in a river, oblivious to the fast-moving water just feet away, or the possibility of divers above them.

You look around and there doesn’t appear to be any adults, instructors or guides at this nightmarish campsite. What’s wrong with this picture?

Measuring risk

First off, if you’re a professional outdoor educator or backcountry guide, you’re probably tempted to walk in amongst this mayhem and ask these youngsters what group they’re with and then ask them what it is they think they’re doing?

The Practice of Risk Management

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), we take risk and site management seriously. To us, it’s far more than just a (more…)

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