Surviving the challenges of jet lag and driving on the wrong side of the road, my time in Salt Lake City at the National Outdoor Leadership School's (NOLS) Wilderness Risk Management conference (WRMC) has been an amazing and engaging experience. From the moment the conference started on Wednesday night, there was an exciting buzz and vibrancy to it. People were so welcoming and it was fantastic to meet so many new people from the wider outdoor ed community and catch up with others whom I hadn’t seen for years!
View From The Capital Building In Salt Lake City
The informal gathering set the scene for what was an invaluable conference exploring some of the toughest issues and challenges for the industry, including fatalities in the field, near misses, expert blind spots and managing the traumatic fallout from a major incident.
Understanding and discussing the real experiences of others through presentations, case studies and group discussions, has been a highlight for me and an excellent learning experience. From this, I’ve reflected on our current practices, as well as a number of incidents throughout my own field work and considered,
‘Did we approach each incident in the most effective manner?’
‘What could we’ve done better?’
‘What do we need to have in place to ensure we can minimise the risk of incidents, as well as maximising the effectiveness of our response if they occur?’
Things To Document & Cover After An Incident
One of the most profound questions in a session for me was, “What’s so important about your program that it’s potentially worth someone dying for?” This really got me thinking, and I’m not going to analyse this question, or throw out an opinion on it, because it’s something for everyone to think about. I know what it means to me, but what does this mean to you? How does this shape your thinking? Do you throw your hands in the air and say it’s all too hard? Or do you take a more serious and systematic approach to balancing risk and educational outcomes?
A key theme of the conference was the fact that risk management has very little to do with a written document, that once completed, keeps your organisation’s lawyers happy. Other than checkbox compliance, there’s very little value in writing up your risk assessment, if you’re only going to file it away in a folder and forget about it until something goes wrong. Effective risk management has more to do with a transparent and progressive cultural attitude within your organisation than writing up detailed documents that often people don’t even read. Clarity of purpose, targeted education and openness to the discussion of incidents, are all contributing factors in developing this proactive culture.
The Prized Tent!
On a completely different note, I managed to collect a lot of free pens and got to explore Salt Lake City and hike around some of the beautiful surrounding hills. The only problem with the conference was that there were so many great sessions, I couldn’t get to them all. Hence, I’m going to have to come back next year for another WRMC and a whole new travel adventure to Portland, Maine! I’ve never been to the East Coast before, and being so close to Salem right around Halloween, it’s going to be another great adventure!
Despite the distance from Australia to the US for this conference, this was a true industry-leading event and well worth attending. If you’re considering ways to improve your own program or feel that you’ve reached a point where you know everything, then you need to come to a WRMC. It doesn’t matter how new or experienced you are, this type of event provides so much insight into the industry and how it’s continuously improving and evolving to provide the best experiential educational outcomes possible.
See You Next Year in Portland!