Safety First, Last, and Always

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A few years back, the news was full of reports about 12-year-old Michael Auberry, a North Carolina Scout who wandered away from camp and was lost for four days. I don’t know enough about Michael’s story to judge how well or poorly his troop leaders reacted, but I was pleased by the strong endorsement Michael’s dad gave the troop leaders even before Michael was rescued.

That story made me think about what I believe is a common attitude among Scouters to risk and safety. It occurs to me that many of us unconsciously decide at the outset whether a given activity will be risky and then adjust our safety measures accordingly.

If we’re going swimming, we rigorously enforce the buddy system (along with the other elements of Safe Swim Defense). If we’re going backpacking, we make sure our first-aid kits are fully stocked. If we’re going rappelling off a 100-foot cliff, we become hyper-vigilant about minimizing horseplay.

If we’re just plop camping at our council camp or day-hiking at a local state park or doing a simple conservation project … well, the safety rules don’t seem so important.

Which brings us back to Michael Auberry. If nothing else, Michael’s story should remind us all as Scout leaders that every activity carries some risk and that it’s often when we let our guard down that bad things happen.

Somebody once asked Lord Baden-Powell about the Scout motto and what exactly Scouts should be prepared for. “Why, for any old thing,” he replied. As Scouters, we too should be prepared for any old thing on troop outings.

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