All outdoor trips incur risk. Trip planners must balance the severity of a potential injury or illness with the expedition members' outdoor skills, equipment choices, and the availability of outside assistance. The planner must accurately assess each member's skills and other factors with:
Program managers and trip planners often require a deeper understanding of preventative wilderness medicine strategies than most WFR or WEMT graduates possess. A medical advisor who is intimately familiar with the program or trip can recognize clinical conditions for specific medical problems and aid in developing effective mitigation strategies.
Let's take a closer look at each risk category:
Hazardous Weather Events
Due to global warming, hazardous weather events are increasing worldwide, making a trip-related prediction of potential weather-related injuries challenging. In addition to injuries directly associated with weather events, changing microclimates are expanding disease and fauna boundaries, often increasing the range of infectious diseases and venomous creatures.
Managers and trip leaders need to:
Inherent Activity- and Terrain-associated Risks
Most activity- and terrain-associated hazards are well known within the outdoor industry. Nationally and internationally recognized professional organizations offer training and certification in numerous outdoor pursuits designed to promote best practices within the industry. Both professionals and non-professionals can benefit from these courses and certifications. Training in activity-specific rescue techniques and wilderness medicine, especially Wilderness First Responder, helps expedition members understand potential consequences should things go wrong and imbibe a conservative approach to risk and site management.
Infectious Disease Outbreaks
Each pathogen, animal vector, and host has an optimal climate in which they thrive, with warm, moist temperate, subtropical, and tropical environments being the best. Global warming has increased and will continue to increase, both temperature and precipitation worldwide, leading to the proliferation of many infectious diseases. While this trend is predictable, the exact type and location of an emerging disease are not, and exposure to and contracting an infectious disease in an area without historical data is increasingly common. To this end, expedition members should protect themselves by treating their water, ensuring good personal and expedition hygiene, taking aggressive precautions against insect-borne diseases, and avoiding potentially infectious animals and their habitat. Avoidance equals prevention, and there are no reliable field treatments for most infectious diseases.
Do your research:
The ability—or lack thereof—to rapidly evacuate an injured or ill expedition member to definitive care may directly affect their outcome. Since the inherent risk of injury to rescue party members tends to increase with the severity of the patient's injury or illness, it is critical to diagnose the patient's current and anticipated problems accurately. In some cases, an accurate assessment may require more medical experience than expedition members possess, and a physician consult may be necessary. Any evacuation, regardless of the type or urgency, should not endanger members of the evacuation team or the patient beyond the team's capacity to manage the risk effectively.
Interested in Wilderness Medicine? Take one of our wilderness medicine courses. Guides and expedition leaders should consider taking our Wilderness First Responder course.
Looking for a reliable field reference? Consider consider purchasing one of our print or digital handbooks; our digital handbook apps are available in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Updates are free for life. A digital SOAP note app is also available.
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