Highlights from the 2014 Wilderness Risk Management Conference

This year's Wilderness Risk Management Conference in Atlanta was a superb three-day event focusing on critical issues relating to risk management for outdoor programs. This annual conference, sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School, Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association brings hundreds of outdoor professionals from around the world together to focus on managing risk in outdoor programs. With over 40 workshops and preconference events, this is the premiere risk management event in North America. It's been several years since I've been able to attend the conference and it was well worth it to come down to Atlanta, GA to be able to attend the conference.

Incident Reporting and Analysis

Billy Roos and Mark Vermeal from Outward Bound gave an excellent half-day preconference workshop exploring different strategies for collecting and reviewing close call and accident data. Developing a strategy for how to assess your incident data is critical for programs to be able to determine an effective response and make changes to program infrastructure, policies and procedures and staff training.

Where Are We Now? Epinephrine and Outdoor Programming 2014

Frances Turner Mock an attorney and Seth Hawkins and Emergency Room physician presented the current range of laws across the US in regards to the administration of epinephrine. Frances and Reb Gregg had given this same talk in 2009 and a lot has changed in the law since then. In particular the definition of anaphylaxis was broadened in 2006 to provide a much lower threshold for when epinephrine should be administered (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology).

Supporting Struggling Participants: Strategies for Managing Behavioral and Mental Health Issues

Katie Baum Mettenbrink and Emily Ledingham from NOLS presented a very thorough model for how to manage challenging behavior on a course from PreCourse assessment and setting expectations, to techniques for managing behavior During the Course, and assessing intervention strategies Post Course.

Decision Making: Errors in Perception

Gates Richards from NOLS presented a series of decision-making models followed by information on how the human brain can fall into 'perception traps' that limit our ability to process the relevant information in a scenario and lead to errors in judgment.

How to Prepare and Execute Effective Critical Incident Simulations with Administrative Staff

Mark Vermeal from Outward Bound presented four different models of Critical Incident Simulations: Table Top, Open Book Test, Speed Dating and Full Surprise as increasing complex options for testing your Emergency Response Plan. Mark give small groups the opportunity to plan an incident simulation using once of the models.

The Law Says 'Yes' to Risk

Reb Gregg, one of the foremost experts in recreation law presented a fascinating analysis of changes in the the legal landscape over the past five years. Reb's soft-spoken wit and his keen appreciation of the law made this a superb presentation of complex topics. He used his encyclopedic knowledge of case law to illustrate how courts are now interpreting risk as an inherent element in many active sports which reduces the potential liability exposure for outdoor programs.

Reb's and Catherine Hansen-Stamp's analysis of legal cases can be see here at OutdoorEd.com on the Recreation Law Center.

Keeping your Field Staff Fresh: A Model for Ongoing Training:

Rebecca Bear and Jeremy Oyen from REI demonstrated the new staff training model they have implemented for their distributed chain of REI stores offering public outdoor trips and programming. This innovative model uses customized assessment of each staff member with a core set of trainings that include online training, mentorship, field training and self-assessment.

Performing Under Pressure

Deb Ajango presented a detailed workshop applying the latest on brain-based learning to staff training. Exploring the interaction between the limbic system (primitive brain) and the pre-frontal cortex (conscious brain) Deb illustrated how creating training experiences that put staff in a state of optimal neurological arousal leads to the most effective learning aan retention.

Closing Keynote - Lessons Learned from the Loss of the HMS Bounty

Captain Andy presented a talk on the events that led up to the sinking of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty off Cape Hatteras during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Captain Palmer's thoughtful analysis captivated the crowd as he illustrated the cascading series of events that led to this tragedy. His analysis is available on the article he wrote in Wood Boat Magazine - Lessons of the BOUNTY: Drawing Experience from Tragedy.

I always love going to this conference and benefit from the incredibly wealth of knowledge and willingness to share to improve all our programs. If you've never been to this conference, you should make it the must-do event for next year.

You can access resources from this year's and previous year's conferences at the

WRMC Resource Center

Next year's Wilderness Risk Management Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon , October 14-16, 2015. Registration information will be posted at www.nols.edu/wrmc/