You must have clearly documented and practised procedures for the full range of emergencies relevant to your operation, from incident management through to crisis response.
Ensure that there is a staff member on every activity who is responsible for monitoring general safety and ensuring that operational procedures are followed. They must be an experienced person who will exercise good judgement under pressure.
Note that this does not remove the responsibility of each individual guide or instructor to manage the safety of the participants under their care.
Every activity must also have a person providing backup monitoring. This person is responsible for providing emergency response support as per the operators emergency procedures. They must not be on the activity itself and must be as contactable as possible while the activity is underway.
Specified call in times are a useful way to enable a backup person to monitor the progress of the activity. Consider scheduling these for before or after parts of the activity involving serious risks or communication blind spots.
Use your risk management processes to identify the emergency scenarios for your operation.
Think through what could actually happen. Include your team in this process and remember to review past incident information.
Scenarios should cover the following areas:
- incidents that can be managed internally, e.g. a client health issue or a vehicle malfunction
- emergencies that require external support, e.g. bringing in help for a broken down vehicle in a remote location, or a 111 call for a serious injury
- a crisis involving the actual loss of life, which will primarily be managed externally by police and/or search and rescue
- a civil emergency such as a flood, tsunami, pandemic or earthquake, where emergency services and infrastructure are likely to be overwhelmed.
Establish emergency procedures appropriate for each of the above scenarios, including:
- step by step action plans
- what equipment is needed and where it will be located - including first aid
- how you will ensure that everyone is accounted for
- communications systems in the field and/or at base
- locating client and staff details, including medical information and next of kin or contacts
- recording and reporting requirements during and after the event, e.g. phone/radio logs, and a list of who to call and at what stage, e.g. company owner, regulators( WorkSafeNZ, MNZ, CAA), police, client next of kin
- contact information for other key stakeholders, e.g. associations, business partners
- a victim support plan - victim support during and immediately after an emergency and any longer term needs for you and your staff;
- when developing civil emergency response plans include other operators and local emergency services
- a media response plan, including the media spokesperson
When developing emergency response plans that will involve local police or rescue services it is a good idea to contact them and ask for their input.
"Our operation is based in a small community. We use the local policeperson as a sounding board. It's reassuring to have another pair of eyes look over 'our thinking'."
Structure and use
Ensure that your emergency response procedures are:
- in line with current industry practice
- easily communicated within your team - consider establishing definitions for severity that enable your team to clearly communicate which emergency response procedure is required
- allocated with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, including who is responsible for calling for outside help
- readily accessible by staff - kept in the right place and in a useable form, e.g. flowcharts, laminated wallet cards
- regularly reviewed and up to date – someone must be responsible for making sure this happens
Realistic emergency procedure training must be a positive and regular part of your operation. The more familiar you and your team are with your emergency procedures, the better you will manage and cope in a crisis.
Training processes should be:
- included in induction and ongoing training
- a learning process that ensures procedures are improved over time
- realistic and relevant
- comprehensive and include scenarios involving your entire team, including individuals who will be managing the base and communications; consider including emergency services
- part of your everyday safety culture, e.g. ask a staff member where an emergency plan is located; give a staff member a scenario and ask how they would respond
- focused both on practising procedures and reviewing them
- documented, e.g. what you did, who was there, any learning points and any follow-up actions to be taken
- fully debriefed - allow time for this important process
Training with local rescue personnel helps to increase their awareness of site access and evacuation options and identify gaps in equipment and expertise.
“I walk into our base some days and throw out a 'what would you do if' scenario. It's simple, basic training, but it keeps our crisis plan top-of-mind."
Communication systems need to cover communication between staff on the activity ( this can be challenging e.g. in canyons), with backup staff monitoring the trip and ideally with external emergency support services.
Between staff in the field
Communicating between staff in the field is often difficult due to distance or noise from water or wind. Establish a communication system that meets the operational and emergency requirements of the activity.
This may involve using technology but often relies on signals such as hand, whistle or rope signals. Many activities have good practice standards for using signals, ensure you know what they are.
With external support
There should be a primary system, and a backup system if the primary system is likely to be compromised e.g. failing due to getting wet. The primary system should enable two way communication.
The type of communication equipment used will depend on the context and the activity, the potential hazards and risks and the emergency response plan in place.
Choose the most effective option practicable. Examples include:
- mobile phone
- satellite phone
- two-way satellite texting device
- two-way radio (e.g. UHF radio)
- Emergency Position Indicating Radio beacon (EPIRB)
- Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
- tracking devices
- emergency flares.
Good pre-activity briefings will help ensure everyone is aware of the communication equipment, requirements and procedures for that activity.
Where a communication device relies on coverage, ensure that staff and personal monitoring the activity are aware of any non-coverage areas. A map can be a useful tool for this.
Ensure that emergency communication procedures are understood and actionable by more than one person on the activity. Where there is only one staff member this means ensuring that participants know how to contact emergency support if the staff member is unable to do so.
Have a back up communication plan to cover what to do if the planned communication tools don’t work.
Dialling 111 for incidents in remote area may not always be the best way to obtain effective emergency support.
These Emergency Communication Guidelines provide a communications planning template to share with local police, and advice including how to ensure that responders understand you are in a remote area, what information you should convey to get the right support, and what to expect if you set off a PLB.
The Rescue Coordination Response Center New Zealand (RCCNZ) is responsbile for all major maritime and aviation search and rescue missions within New Zealand’s search and rescue region, and all land-based missions arising from someone activating a distress beacon. For these incidents if you call the RCCNZ 24 hour emergency phone number will get you the right response:
0508 4 RCCNZ or 0508 472 269. Calling from outside New Zealand:
+64 4 577 8030
Ensure that suitable external emergency support is available within a planned period of time; for a day trip this would ideally
be within daylight hours. Specify this period of time in your emergency procedures.
Emergency planning and procedures should consider factors that could impact on the availability of
suitable external emergency support. These include:
- the ability to call for external support from the activity location
- the type of external emergency support required by each emergency scenario
- site access and evacuation options
- capacity and ability of local rescue resources such as other operators and community
Contingencies for limited access to emergency support
Where access to suitable external emergency response is limited, there is a risk that groups will spend longer in the environment of the activity. Management strategies must be included emergency procedures.
Factors to consider include:
- informing participants of the risk of a prolonged stay in field in the event of an emergency
- considering accessibility when determining the supervision structure and assessing participants
- finishing activities early in the day to allow time for an overdue response and rescue
- training with rescue response personnel
- permanently rigging access and escape routes and storing evacuation equipment in the field
- using more experienced guides or instructors and ensuring they are competent to manage emergency scenarios for extended periods of time
- taking extra care throughout the trip and considering excluding avoidable higher risk activities
- having resources available to maintain group safety for an extended stay in the field e.g. food, warm clothing, and heat sources.
Emergency equipment must be sufficient for the size of the group and suitable for dealing with the operation's emergency scenarios as identified in risk management processes. It must meet good practice standards for the activity you are providing.
When choosing emergency equipment give careful consideration to how long it will take before external emergency support arrives. Where this may be slow consider:
- shelter and heat sources including ground insulation, high energy food and spare warm clothing.
- how you will mange the safety of your entire group while waiting.
Emergency equipment must be suitably accessible to manage all the operation's emergency scenarios. There are a range of options to consider including caching emergency equipment along a route , carrying it in a vehicle, distributing it across staff members, carrying it in a pack or directly on your body.
Staff must have first aid skills suited to the operation's emergency scenarios. In many adventure activity situations they could be managing an injured person for an extended period of time before external emergency help arrives, for these scenarios they should have an in-depth first aid qualification such as pre-hospital emergency care.
First aid kits must also be suited to the operation's emergency scenarios. Here are some suggestions for a first aid kit suited to most Outdoors Activities.
Ensure you have procedures to:
- check that first aid kit contents are complete before taking into the field
- check that sterile products are not contaminated and perishable medication is within its expiry date
- dispose of and replace contaminated or expired products.
- store medications appropriately.
Managing serious allergic reactions in the outdoor environment can be particularly problematic. Here is an Outdoor Industry Guide for Using Adrenaline.