Staying Safe

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Staying Safe

Teach Your Children Well
By Debra Shore

In February 1981, nine-year-old Jimmy Beveridge and his two brothers, seven and 15, headed out on a hike a half-mile from their campsite in Palomar Mountain State Park northeast of San Diego. Jimmy dashed off and took a shortcut; four days later his body was found two miles from the campground. Rain and fog had moved in suddenly; he had died of hypothermia. Following this tragedy, renowned tracker Ab Taylor and writer Tom Jacobs developed a program called "Hug-A-Tree" to teach children four basic principles for staying safe in the wilderness:

Hug a tree. If you get lost, stay in one place. This reduces the distance searchers need to cover and conserves your energy.

Take a whistle and a large plastic garbage bag with you whenever you leave camp. To stay dry, make a hole in the side or one corner of the bag for your face to poke out, thus keeping your head covered to retain more heat. Whistles are louder than yelling and require less energy; three toots are the universal signal to searchers.
Make yourself big. It's hard to see people from a helicopter, so wear bright clothes. Find a clearing and make an SOS sign in the dirt using sticks, leaves, and/or rocks. You can also use a mirror as a signal device.

Leave a footprint behind. Have each child make a footprint on a piece of aluminum foil. This can save precious search time by eliminating false trails. Teach kids to avoid getting lost by staying on the trail and picking out landmarks. If your child does become lost, call the sheriff as quickly as possible.

Sometimes children are afraid to answer rescuers calling their name. The shouting can make them think adults are angry, or, even in an emergency, they may take warnings against speaking with strangers to heart. Brief them in advance on how to respond to rescuers should they get lost.

For information, contact Hug-A-Tree and Survive, P.O. Box 3645, Fairfax, VA 22038; 703-385-6491.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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