SCA and the Wilderness Risk Management Conference: Leading the Way for the Outdoor Industry

by Steve Smith, Vice President of Program Quality, SCA
Since 1998, SCA has served as a co-sponsor of the Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) along with Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).  An international gathering specifically focused on outdoor safety and risk management, the WRMC next takes place in Salt Lake City from Oct 12-14, 2016. Now in its 23rd year, the conference continues to grow in scope and attendance and now regularly attracts 400-450 participants annually.  
I have the honor of chairing the WRMC Steering Committee and, along with fellow Committee member and SCA colleague Amberleigh Hammond, have worked with others at the WRMC to synthesize the conference’s history into a specific set of goals and principles. Of course, the conference is not about eliminating risk – to do that, we would have to cancel our programs altogether.  At the WRMC, we believe that wilderness and outdoor experiences create unique opportunities for personal growth and skill development.  There is tremendous value to taking risks, but those risks need to be thoughtfully assessed and managed.
The process of distilling more than two decades of oral tradition into a written document required focus, debate, and values clarification for the committee responsible for this project.  Several key principles stand out as particularly relevant for SCA and the trajectory of the outdoor industry. National initiatives such as Every Kid in a Park and recent orders by DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, all of which are intended to expand outdoor engagement, simultaneously compel us to make a corresponding emphasis on risk management by enlisting participants as partners in managing the risks inherent in our programs.  Similarly, cultural competencies are critical factors in risk management and essential to creating inclusive programs.
The relevance of these principles for SCA programs and the larger movement within the outdoor industry is that neither leaders, equipment, nor a given program can ever “make the participants safe.”  We need to design our programs to heighten situational awareness, teach essential skills, and foster an environment in which clear communication and teamwork can combine to help manage (not eliminate) risks to participants. One tool which SCA uses to enlist participants as links in the safety chain is our time-proven “Take Five for Safety” approach to projects and activities. This safety briefing creates routine and ritual that helps to foster a culture of safety on our programs (click on image below).
In terms of cultural competence, SCA has expanded our approach to diversity and inclusion through new training and field guide resources provided by our industry expert partners at the Avarna Group, who will also be speaking at the WRMC. Getting every kid in a park and increasing access are great steps, but we also need to work hard to ensure that there will be culturally competent leaders and a welcoming environment for a wide range of diverse participants. The WRMC will offer a healthy range of presentations on inclusion and diversity at this year’s conference.  
As usual, there are several other SCA connections at this year’s conference.  National Program VP Rob Terry will present along with some SCA alumni about unique risk management strategies developed to support our NPS Academy program.  In addition, SCA Board Risk Committee member Deb Ajango will present her popular workshop on cognitive science as it pertains to judgment and decision making as an outdoor leader. The Avarna Group, a consulting team which has engaged with the Program Quality Team to build diversity and inclusion material for this year’s Field Guide and trainings around the country, will conduct a diversity workshop on the risks of unconscious bias. SCA’s physician advisor Dr. Greg Moore will sit in on a wilderness medical panel.
Finally, WRMC founding father Reb Gregg (who serves on SCA’s board risk management committee) will once again speak and congratulate the recipient of this year’s Reb Gregg Award for leadership and innovation in risk management.  
For more about the WRMC and the value it brings to the outdoor industry, watch this video or visit the WMRC web page
Student Conservation Association