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WIlderness Risk Managers Conference Oct08

Fifteen years ago I opened the first WRMC in a large tent at the NOLS base in Conway Washington.   Today, amid the beautiful fall colors in Grand Teton National Park, I was looking at my notes from that presentation

Opening remarks WRMC 1994. Current Issues.
- Today the public demands more from wilderness educators, and we demand more of ourselves. This is still true. We wrestle to find the balance between risk management and adventure, worry whether we can make our programs too safe, and ask where we cross the line between risk management and program integrity.  At some point, in order to sail, the ship needs to leave the harbor.
- We feel, either perceived or real, pressures from our litigious society and its seeming reluctance to accept responsibility for its actions. This is still true.
- We ask more of our staff in terms of their technical ability, experience and training.  This is still true.
- We wrestle with the impact of technology in the traditional wilderness experience.  In 1994 I didn’t imagine the communication, information, navigation technology available to us today.  Nor did I anticipate how people have grown to expect these, to take them for granted as part of the wilderness experience.  There are now field staff who have never worked in the pre-sat phone and GPS era.
- We try to explain our programs to people who seem more and more disconnected from wilderness.  This was before we worried about children who did not even go outside.

Where have we gone in 15 years? 
Industry-wide dialogue on risk management was, and is a goal in the formation of this committee and this conference.   We’re more knowledgeable.  Our risk management practices are better.   We have better lines of communication.  We have more resources; in people, information and experience.  

Yet the issues are in many ways the same.  I could say the same things today that I said in 1994.  They remain relevant.

What I didn’t say then, but wish I had, is that we can develop risk management systems and programs, have sound training and support materials and good lines of communication, but ultimately, our ability to be present when a staff person and a participant are engaged in a real time decision is limited.  Lets keep this focus on the person in the field making the decisions, the person at the sharp end of the rope, with their hands on the tiller and their eyes on the terrain and weather.   For this ultimately is the core of risk management in our programs and our most valuable tool.   It still comes down to the competence and judgment of our people in the field - and this is a good thing.

Tod Schimelpfenig EMT, FAWM

Curriculum Director - WMI of NOLS

Oct 2008


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