Preparing a Group to Manage Risk

Rescue team professionals and trained volunteers responding to backcountry calls can be exposed to considerable risk. Never hesitate to summon help when you need it, but minimize the need for assistance by preparing well and doing your best to proceed in ways that maximize your safety and that of others.

Risks associated with the outdoors can involve rain, wind, heat, cold, avalanche, water, wildlife, vegetation, and falling. Human elements affecting risk include lack of physical preparation, improper training, poor judgment, and unreasonable expectations by group members, leaders, parents, and others. Many of these concerns can be addressed by leaders helping group members decide upon activities that are appropriate to their skills, experience level, and interests. Preparing a group to manage risk also involves a certain amount of pretrip paperwork and development of an emergency response plan.

For more on matching groups with appropriate activities, see the chapters titled "Organizing for Adventures," "Outdoor Leadership," and "Planning a Trek."


The policies of a given organization will determine the paperwork that must be completed before a trek begins—releases for medical treatment, for example, proof of health insurance, tour permits, and any forms required by land management agencies. Leaders also should be fully informed in writing if a group member requires medications, has any medical issues, or deals with allergies. Always prepare a written itinerary of where you plan to be on each day and night of a trek. Leave copies with several responsible people who will take appropriate action if you haven't returned according to schedule.

Emergency Response Plan

Developing a written emergency response plan requires group members to figure out the steps to be taken during trek emergencies and to write down contact information for agency personnel, law enforcement authorities, and medical response networks. The plan should outline strategies for contacting help, if help is needed. Along with your group's roster, itinerary, intended route, and expected time of return, give copies of the emergency response plan to support persons in the frontcountry.

For more on itineraries and emergency response plans, see the chapter titled "Planning a Trek."

Wireless Telephones and Risk Management

Global positioning system (GPS) receivers allow travelers to pinpoint locations, but they are no substitute for mastering the use of maps and compasses. Likewise, wireless telephones can be a convenient means for groups to contact emergency response personnel, but phones are useless if they malfunction, the batteries are exhausted, or distance and terrain prevent clear reception of signals.

Frivolous use of wireless phones can seriously diminish solitude, independence, and challenge in the outdoors. If you carry a portable telephone, stow it deep in your pack and bring it out only for emergency calls. Most of all, never assume that having a portable telephone grants you any protection to attempt activities beyond your levels of skill and experience, especially if you are far from emergency support.