BSA Incident Reporting

I’m excited about the incident reporting that the BSA requires now, but there may be a few kinks to work out.

How are they going to handle the volume with paper reporting? Using the back of a virtual envelope, we have 40,000 troops and five reports/year from each one. That is 200,000 reports. They’ll be lucky to get a few thousand this year, but on-line reporting is a must.

Any “first aid” is a Marginal incident, which must be reported within five days. That means a report for every blister. With about 900,000 Scouts and Venturers, 100% reporting could mean a million reports per year.

Obviously, there will be massive under-reporting, so the BSA should do something to estimate the true rates. Perhaps a sampling survey, or at least a re-charter checkbox on whether you are participating in the incident reporting program.

Many of these reports are going to be injuries or illnesses (property damage is also reported), and that is personal medical information. I’m not a HIPAA expert, but I doubt that leaving names out of a report is sufficient anonymization to protect health information. The BSA needs to provide some guidance on this. Perhaps they could update the release on the annual health form to cover incident reporting.

A quarterly or yearly report would be wonderful. I’m sure that would give the PR department the willies, but it has to be better than the current ostrich approach.

This is a gold mine for outdoor safety studies. It might become the largest database of such data. NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute has done some great work with their stats, so the BSA should partner with them.

Is this being piloted at Philmont? I’m sure the staff reports incidents that they know about, but I don’t see anything about crew reporting in the Council and Unit Planning Guide or the Guidebook to Adventure for the 2014 season.

BSA Fieldbook Fumbles the Ten Essentials

The essence of the Ten Essentials is easy—carry these ten things to help you not die on the mountain. It is a part of risk management and planning. The new BSA Fieldbook gets this upside down, making it all about gear. Also, the Fieldbook sticks with the 1930’s list, instead of moving to the 2003 “systems” Ten Essentials. For more details, see the current edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

The new Ten Essentials covers risk areas rather than listing specific gear. Map and compass is replaced by navigation, and sunglasses and sunscreen by sun protection. This is a smart update to a list from the 1930’s, but the BSA didn’t get the memo.

In the 2014 Fieldbook, the Ten Essentials description is based on the 2004 edition, but it has been reorganized to be more gear-centric, not a good idea. The 2004 Fieldbook has a “why” and “what” for each essential. This is oriented to risk management, “why carry this?” The new Fieldbook has some introductory “why” text without a heading, but then has a “basic” and “advanced” choice for each essential. This does not make sense to me. Yes, some gear requires more training, but why is a soda bottle basic and a wide-mouth Nalgene advanced? I’m an advanced packer and I carry a soda bottle. My Nalgenes are for car camping.

Let’s look at different descriptions for a common essential, a knife.

Here is the knife entry from The Mountaineers’ Ten Essentials. Everyone should carry a knife, but tools like screwdrivers can be crew gear.

Repair Kit and Tools: Knives are so useful in first aid, food preparation, repairs, and climbing that every party member needs to carry one. Leashes to prevent loss are common. Other tools (pliers, screwdriver, awl, scissors) can be part of a knife or a pocket tool, or carried separately—perhaps even as part of a group kit. Other useful repair items are shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, wire, duct tape, nylon fabric repair tape, cable ties, plastic buckles, cordage, webbing, and parts for equipment such as tent, stove, crampons, snowshoes, and skis.

Here is what the 2014 Fieldbook says on page 20. Try and think about how a wire stripper or digital memory card might keep you alive on the mountain, to the degree that every Sout should carry them.

A pocketknife is the all-purpose tool of the outdoors. Use it to cut a cord, trim a bandage, slice cheese, whittle a tent stake, open a can, tighten a camp stove screw, and take care of a hundred other tasks.

Choose a quality knife that includes one or two sharp blades, a can opener, and a screwdriver. Invest in a good knife now, and it will serve you well through years of adventures. Keep it sharp and clean.

Some knives have additional features intended for specific outdoor activities. Among the possibilities are wire strippers, toothpicks, scissors, tweezers, a magnifying glass, pliers, a wood saw, and even a digital memory card. Each adds bulk to a knife, so think carefully about what you really need before you buy.

This is advice for shopping, not risk management. And what do they mean by “advanced”, more expensive? For me, advanced packing is not taking the kitchen sink, but honing my planning and skill to take only what I need. I might put this 15 gram folding knife under “advanced”.

The Boy Scout Handbook (12th edition, 2009) is refreshingly to the point on page 264.

A pocketknife could be the most useful tool you can own. Keep yours clean, sharp, and secure.

Finally, here is the description from the 2004 Fieldbook. This is also gear-centric, but at least it is shorter and doesn’t go completely off the rails like the 2014 edition.

Why: Cut a cord, trim a bandage, slice some cheese, whittle a tent stake, tighten a screw on a camp stove—a pocketknife is the all-purpose tool for the out-of-doors.

What: Choose a quality knife that includes among its tools one or two cutting blades, a can opener, and a screwdriver. Keep it sharp and clean.

Better, but the whole approach is a mess. Whittling tent stakes is a big Leave No Trace violation, and probably not one of your top needs in a survival situation. And the can opener? Are these the Car Camping Essentials? Is this “be equipped” rather than “be prepared”?

Let’s remember that this is about staying alive in the wilderness, so it is critical to get it right. Treating it as a gear buyer’s guide is a deep misunderstanding of the Ten Essentials. The BSA needs to get up to date, use the latest “systems” Ten Essentials, and teach Scouts to Be Prepared.

New Checklists and Reporting Requirements in Guide to Safe Scouting

The quarterly update of the Guide to Safe Scouting includes two new checklists in the appendix.

The Campout Safety Checklist (PDF) is two pages long with 35 items, and a big improvement in BSA risk management. Some of the checklist items:

  • Have weather conditions been checked and communicated?
  • Has an adult been assigned to help Scouts with taking meds?
  • Is a mechanism in place for contacting a camp ranger or camp office (e.g., walkie-talkie, mobile phone, etc.)?
  • Has the location of the nearest hospital/ER been identified and announced to all adults?
  • Is the unit first-aid kit in a conspicuous location and readily available?
  • Have any incidents been recorded and reported, if necessary, to BSA professionals?
  • Have the adult and youth leaders captured any lessons learned from the campout?

There is a similar Event Safety Checklist (PDF) for non-camping activities.

Units are now required to report all incidents and near misses. I’m not sure when this was added, but this is the first time I’ve noticed it. These reports make more paperwork for adults, but are key to improving our risk management. The Incident Descriptions and Reporting Instructions (PDF) sheet establishes incident levels and reporting requirements. Here is a overview with some of the incident types, but read the original, it is a single page with another page of definitions.

  • Catastrophic: fatality or life-critical hospitalization, allegation of sexual abuse, major multi-vehicle accident, national publicity — report as soon as possible (after 911 or other immediate response).
  • Serious/Critical: other hospitalization, non-sexual abuse, disease or food-born illness outbreak, bomb threat, local publicity — report within 24 hours
  • Marginal: first aid, ER visit and released, emergency response initiated, serious near miss — report within five days
  • Negligible: near miss, injury or illness not requiring first aid — report by end of charter year

The Incident Information Report (fillable PDF) is linked from the appendix.

There is also a Near Miss Incident Information Report (fillable PDF), but that is not linked from the appendix. It is linked from the health and safety forms page. It should be linked from the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Instead of this colorful PDF for the incident types and definition, I’d like to see them printed in simple text on the back of each Incident Information Form and Near Miss form. The BSA seems to love over-decorative PDFs for basic information.

A set of specific examples would help, too. There is one in the GSS’s Incident Reporting Policy, but more would be useful. If there is lightning nearby and your hiking group takes lightning precautions, is that a near miss? A serious near miss? Not an incident at all? We helped extinguish a single tree fire on a 50 Miler. Is that a near miss or a good turn? Let’s hope the BSA gets enough reports this year that they can give better guidance in 2015.