What’s Your Troop’s Digital Emergency Plan?

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A year or so ago, a friend’s husband passed away suddenly in his late 50s. In the aftermath of his death, my friend felt lost–and not just because her husband had died. You see, he had handled the household finances, and she had been blissfully ignorant of things she suddenly really needed to know, like account numbers and online passwords.

Steve’s death prompted me to create a file of things my wife would need to know if I were gone. She now knows what our various account numbers are, how bills arrive (electronically or by snail mail), which bills are paid automatically, how to access online accounts, and where to find the keys to the safe deposit box. She also knows not to cancel my email and cellphone accounts since so many financial organizations now use two-factor authentication when you try to log into their websites.

What does this all have to do with your troop? You probably don’t have a safe deposit box, but you almost certainly do have other important data that could be lost if a key leader died–or simply decided to take his toys and go home. There’s your troop checking account, for example (which ought to have multiple people on the signature card). You may also have a Square or PayPal account you use for fundraising. There are the login credentials for your website (perhaps including separate domain-name registration). And what about your Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts? Who is listed as an administrator there?

Most troops have relatively transient leadership, so it’s easy for the wrong people to still be listed as contacts or administrators for various accounts. You shouldn’t wait for a crisis to do a digital inventory.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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Updated Resources for a Historic Award

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The BSA’s Historic Trails Award has been around for decades–so long, in fact, that the patch isn’t even fully embroidered. (Gasp!) Now, an important update makes getting started with the award easier.

As described on the application, the award has just three requirements:

  1. Locate a historic trail or site and study information relating to it. (The information may be obtained from an adult historic
    society, public library, or people living near the trail or site.)
  2. Hike or camp two days and one night along the trail or in the
    vicinity of the site.
  3. Cooperate with an adult group such as a historic society to
    restore and mark all or part of this trail or site. (This may be
    done during the hike or overnight camp.) Or cooperate with
    such a group to plan and stage a historic pageant, ceremony,
    or other public event related to this trail or site—such an event
    should be large enough to merit coverage by the local press.

Those Scouts and adults who complete the requirements are eligible to receive a cloth or leather patch, which may be attached to a backpack or patch blanket (but not worn on the uniform).

The main problem with the award in recent years has been identifying nationally approved trails. No one was apparently maintaining the list, which had grown outdated as councils merged and changed names. Now, the National Outdoor Programs Support Committee has updated the list and published it on The Adventure Plan website. Just scroll to your state (or a state you want to visit), and you’ll find the trails in that area, along with the appropriate council to contact. (If you know of a trail that’s missing, encourage your local council to submit the BSA Historic Trails Renewal Application.)

In Boy Scouting, we often focus heavily on merit badges and ranks. While those advancement awards are obviously important, recognitions like the Historic Trails Award can be useful motivational tools and can encourage your Scouts to broaden their horizons.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Helping Your Scouts Help Houston

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In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of our assistant Scoutmasters suggested our troop collect bottled water for victims and survivors. Wanting to do something–anything–to help, the troop set up a collection point and we collected several van loads of water to ship to New York.

Did I mention that our troop is in Kentucky? Or that water is very heavy? (As the old saying goes, “A pint’s a pound the world around.”) Or that New York didn’t even need our water?

I remembered that project this week as I reflected on the disaster Houston is facing in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Scouts all over the country naturally want to do something to help. As adult leaders, we have the opportunity to both help hurricane victims and teach our Scouts the right and wrong ways to be of service.

This week, the United Methodist Church reposted a great article on what to do–and what not to do–to help after a natural disaster. I encourage you to read it and share it with your patrol leaders’ council, but the bottom line is simple: don’t go without an invitation (and training) and don’t send supplies that haven’t been requested.

The best thing to do is probably to donate to a reputable charity, something recommended by experts in a recent NPR story. I love the United Methodist Committee on Relief because 100 percent of donations go directly to provide services; overhead is handled through separate fundraising. Another good option is the BSA Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps rebuild Scouting in affected areas.

Scouts can also get involved in assembling relief supply kits, a project that can help them feel like they’re doing more than just spending money they collect from adults.

And one more suggestion: Use this disaster as an opportunity to talk about preparedness in your own community. While you may be immune from hurricanes, you’re only one tornado, fire, earthquake, chemical spill, or ice storm away from being featured on CNN.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Planning for Positive Adventure

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When I was growing up, one of my favorite authors was Patrick McManus, whose humor columns in such magazines as Field & Stream (many collected in books like A Fine and Pleasant Misery and They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?) described childhood misadventures involving camping, hunting, and boating. His stories made clear that you didn’t need to do any planning whatsoever in order to have memorable experiences–as long as you don’t care whether you survive!

Of course, in Scouting we want our adventures to be both memorable and survivable. “Challenge by choice” (the watchword of ropes courses) should never become “challenge by chance.”

That’s why I’m pleased that the BSA has created a comprehensive online tool called The Adventure Plan. Here’s an overview:

The Adventure Plan (TAP) provides a one-stop set of tools to help adult and youth leaders envision, plan, prepare and conduct safe, exciting and successful outdoor Adventures. Your unit Adventure may be as simple as an overnight backpacking trip or bike ride, or maybe it is a week-long or longer activity. This online planning guide is encouraged for all levels of Scouting from Cub Scouts to Venturing. Not all the steps outlined in this guide will apply to your unit’s Adventure. What steps apply will depend on what type of Adventure your unit selects.

The process includes 53 steps, which can seem daunting at first. However, some actions will happen automatically, like choosing an activity (step 4), while others are pretty simple, like reconfirming all reservations (step 45). (That latter step is a good example of something that’s easy to overlook if you don’t follow a rigorous planning process.)

Along the way, you’ll find links to relevant BSA resources. On the page associated with choosing an activity, for example, you’ll find links to Age Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities and the BSA Caving Policy, among other resources.

Outdoor misadventures can make for entertaining reading, as Patrick McManus demonstrated. By following the TAP process, you can ensure that fiction doesn’t become fact in your Scouting unit.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Video Stores, Streaming Video, and Your Troop

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As you may have heard by now, the BSA has begun a discussion about whether and how to serve the whole family–both boys and girls, in other words–at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh began the conversation at May’s National Annual Meeting, and councils across the country have been holding listening sessions this summer to gather input from volunteers.

I missed the meeting in my local council, but I caught the video used in all the meetings online. In it, Surbaugh lays out his rationale for beginning a broader discussion of this important topic.

My point in this post is not to weigh in on this specific topic (although I applaud Surbaugh’s willingness to ask challenging questions and think outside the patrol box). Instead, I want to highlight a key point Surbaugh makes. In the video, he argues that Scouting’s problem is not its programs–which are proven to meet the needs of families–but the way it delivers those programs. What keeps people away, he says, is not content but convenience.

Starting about the 11:30 mark in the video, Surbaugh describes the evolution of options for watching movies at home:

  • First, there were video stores–remember those?–that rented VHS tapes. You had to “be kind and rewind” unless you wanted to pay a penalty.
  • Next came DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which offered higher quality and eliminated the need to rewind.
  • These days, of course, we stream videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a bunch of other services–no trip to Blockbuster required.

Surbaugh imagines that a lot of people a decade or so ago lost money trying to invent even better discs, not realizing the product was good enough for most people.

That same thinking can happen in troops. We don’t necessarily need bigger, louder, more expensive activities to attract and retain members (not that high adventure isn’t important for older Scouts). We do need to think about how we’re delivering the program and how effectively we’re communicating with families.

Take the simple issue of departure and return times for outings.Is it easy for parents in your troop to get to your meeting place at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Would getting back at 12 p.m. on a Sunday work better for families than 2 p.m. or 10 a.m.? Do you announce departure and return times from the moment an outing is announced–and stick with those times as plans develop? And do you text parents from the road to confirm your return time, especially if you’re going to miss your target?

We need to think about questions like those–and more complex ones as well. If not, families are as likely to hit the eject button as the play button.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Promoting Youth Protection Through Posters

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An important topic the BSA’s Youth Protection training covers is Scouting’s barriers to abuse: no one-one-one contact, appropriate discipline, etc. But there’s an important barrier that isn’t listed, and that’s the requirement that all leaders renew their training every two years.

That policy exists both because the rules change from time to time–10 or 15 years ago, there was no guidance about social media–and because people tend to forget information they don’t use every day. (Recently, for example, I tried without much success to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle for a woodworking project, something I learned way back in high school.)

To keep Youth Protection policies more top of mind, the BSA has created a series of posters that you can display in your meeting place or at training courses. These attractive posters do a good job of highlighting key elements of Youth Protection, and I encourage you to download and use them.

The posters are:


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Advancement and Intentions

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For an upcoming Scouting magazine column, I’ve been delving into the various Boy Scout advancement requirements having to do with camping–and specifically what does and doesn’t qualify as camping when it comes to counting nights. One thing I’ve realized is that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the rank and merit badge requirements.

The Second Class and First Class requirements specify spending the night “in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee,” while Camping merit badge only mentions sleeping “in a tent or under the stars.”

A legalistic leader–and we have plenty of those in Scouting–might get hung up on this discrepancy, saying that sleeping in a lean-to shouldn’t count for Camping merit badge or arguing that there’s no difference between a tent and a tepee. A lenient leader–and we have plenty of those, too–might ignore the details and let Scouts count nights spent in a cabin or church basement toward Camping merit badge.

Both approaches, however, miss the point of the requirements, which is to put Scouts in situations where they must practice the patrol method and Scoutcraft skills like tent-pitching and camp cooking. Sleeping in a church basement makes that less likely; sleeping in a lean-to doesn’t. If I were making the call, I’d probably allow a night spent in a lean-to but definitely wouldn’t allow a night spent in a church basement.

There’s one more point to consider: 20 nights of camping (including up to six nights of long-term camping) is not a lot to ask of a Scout before he reaches Eagle. If you feel the need to make exceptions to the rules, it’s probably a good idea to look at your troop’s camping program. If your Scouts don’t have enough chances to camp, the problem lies with the calendar your patrol leaders’ council has planned, not with the advancement requirements.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.