As a member of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, I had the privilege today of joining other team members in educating fourth grade elementary school students at Incline elementary about winter preparedness, safety and survival.
After a half an hour listening to our education impresario, Bernie Mellor, about what we do as a search and rescue team, and highlighting some recent rescues, we took the kids out in small groups, demonstrating what we just spoke about in the classroom.
Station number one spoke about the acronym S.T.O.P.
S.T.O.P. which stands for stop! If you do become lost, Don’t go further… Don’t get more lost… And especially do not panic.
Use your head to gather information, does anybody know where you are? Did you tell anybody where you were going, who you were with us, when you would be home? Use your head together information, does anybody know where you are? Did you tell anybody where you were going, who you were with us, when you would be home?…What time is it?
Use your eyes and ears… What is the weather like? What’s going on with the sun the wind the snow the sun and the clouds. Landmarks that you can see: hills, creeks, telephone poles and wires, chairlifts, roads… your friends: do they feel strong still, are they tired or cold? what can you hear? Dogs barking, cars, people?
Using all of the information you have gathered above, talk together and make a plan for what comes next. if it is still early, should you continue to find your way out? If it is later in the afternoon, do you need to start thinking about making a shelter to stay warm, and making signals to alert people where you are if they are looking for you.
Station 2: Shelter
Now that you have made a plan that you are going to build a shelter and not continue to search for a way out, you need to know how important shelter is.
There are four core items that you need to survive overnight in the wilderness especially in the winter.
- Fire or heat
Shelter and water are at the top of the list… Hypothermia is a deadly condition, where the temperature of your body score becomes dangerously low.
The 3 C’s : are also important to remember:
You cannot survive much longer than 3 hours in the wilderness in the winter time without shelter and staying warm.
You cannot last much longer than three days without adequate water.
You cannot survive much longer than 3 weeks without food.
So you see, food is not the most important thing on your list for survival… You may be hungry, but you will survive without food for a while.
Now let’s make a shelter
It does not have to be elaborate, remember this is not a bed-and-breakfast, you hope to not be there very long until you are found safe and sound.
Shelter could be using natural windbreaks, such as fallen trees, behind large rocks, in a tree well (though can be dangerous to fall into, you can dig up to it, using the tree as a windbreak)
If you have a snow shovel with you or skis, you could start digging a snow pit as we did today.
Before you start digging, observe where the weather is coming from. You want to make the mound so that it blocks the wind and snow from coming into your shelter.
Dig down to get below the level of the ground, then start to build up the wall of the shelter, packing it tightly on the outside. Once it seems to be staying together, begin digging under the mound to make your shelter space. Cut or break off tree branches to serve as your bedding, as you do not want to lose body heat by laying directly on the snow.
If you are tired or don’t have the time to make a deep shelter right away, you can dig a shallow and narrow pit, building your wind/weather break, then using your skis or tree branches as a seat to keep you off the snow. Extra branches can be stuck into the snow to act as a wind and snow block, making the wind go up and over your head, and out of the cold.
Before you get too cozy in your new snow palace, make certain that you have left signals for rescuers to know where you are. Whatever you do for a signal, make it BIG and obvious. Make it look out of the ordinary for searchers in the air to know that you are there…
Walk through the snow, making a large “X” and fill it with branches or pine needles… spell S.O.S. in the snow, again filling it with something dark to allow searchers to see signal more easily, or simply an ARROW, filled with the same dark materials.
While in your snow shelter, be sure to keep hydrated, conserve all of your body heat, keeping movement to a minimum.
All of these things seem so simple, such common sense for us as adults, but so easily taken for granted when we go out on a run on a nice day and the weather starts to turn on us.
Be aware of your surroundings and know what to do to survive the night out in the cold as our 4th graders did today. It could save your life…so hopefully you will never have to meet the members of our Search and Rescue Team unless it’s at the Bridgetender or Mellow Fellow for a brew.
That’s all for now, thanks for listening.