Hall ran the tightest, safest operation on the mountain, bar none. A compulsively methodical man, he had elaborate systems in place that were supposed to prevent such a catastrophe. So what happened? How can it be explained, not only to the loved ones left behind, but to the censorious public?
Jon Krakauer, about the 1996 Everest disaster. (Into Thin Air)
If you have heard of the story of Jon Krakauer’s experience summiting Everest in 1996, then you know that safety should never be taken lightly. Taking precautions is no guarantee of safety, even for the most experienced climbers.
For those who have not read Into Thin Air, it is a first-hand account of the events of several expeditions attempting to summit Everest in May of 1996. The various expeditions were led by some of the world’s most qualified and revered guides. But on the day of the summit attempt, a mix of a terrible storm and some questionable judgment calls led to the deaths of three guides and two clients from various expedition groups – in addition to a few other deaths on the mountain.
I realize that summiting Everest is a wildly different activity than our weekly meetings or regular activities with our Sections. However, there are parallels between this horrific accident and our Safe Scouting activities. One of the most important parallels is how important it is to plan ahead, completely assess the risk and be willing to follow through on whatever policies are necessary to keep our youth safe.
My actions – or failure to act – played a direct role in the death of Andy Harris. […] I was a mere 350 yards away, huddled inside a tent, oblivious to [Yasuko Namba’s] struggle, concerned only with my own safety.
Scouters are responsible for the safety of everyone participating in the activity – including their fellow Scouters. Every single activity has risk. If risk can be reduced, it should. This is why Plan-Do-Review is such an important element to follow when planning and participating in great Scouting adventures. Not only do you take into account past lessons learned, but you also assess the risk associated with your activity. By doing so, you can plan and diminish potential risks. This simple step can make a fun adventure, a safe one.
At the summer camp I worked at, we played a nighttime game where the campers were running around the forest looking for a tower while trying to evade the counselors. To keep from losing campers in the wilderness, we strategically placed counselors and other staff or teachers around the perimeter of our play-zone. The campers never realized this – and I apologize to any campers whose memories of Mission Impossible may be crushed by this news – but we steered them towards the tower and back to base. Our locations allowed us to be present in the event of any trips, falls or scared campers, all the while making sure no one went out of camp boundaries or got lost. We managed and thought of all possible situations that could go wrong with a nighttime wide game in a large area, and we kept to our policies. So how did we achieve this? We planned and discussed possible risks and by doing so, reduced their ability to happen.
During my time with the camp, there were only ever a couple scrapes and some scared campers. To me, that was a success! A fun game, with some risk that pushes campers out of their comfort zone and challenges them – but it was always as safe as possible.
Preventable injuries are just that: preventable. This Safety Week, let’s remember to do what we can to prevent injuries and unsafe situations. Share your stories of lessons learned or successful safe Scouting adventures this Safety Week using the hashtag #SafeScouting.