June 21, 2012 Bear in Camp! What Are You Going to Do?
Well, short of calling on Allen O'Bannon, expert mountaineer and instructor of the Arctic Field Training class for CPS, encountering a bear on your own calls for good training and pre-planning. CPS stands for CH2MHill Polar Services, which is the logistics provider for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for all Arctic regions. (http://www.polar.ch2m.com/)
CH2MHill Polar Services is comprised of three companies, one of which, Polar Field Services, we had a great introduction to and visit to their warehouse while in Fairbanks this past February. (http://www.polarfield.com/)
Both websites are fascinating to page through, and you can find out more about their projects, people and pets! I particularly enjoy reading their newsletter: field notes (http://www.polarfield.com/blog/)
CPS employs folks with a range of skills such as carpenters, engineers, dispatchers, and camp managers. They work with research scientists around the world building and maintaining infrastructure, outfitting and managing field operations, and providing risk assessments and training. Much of the infrastructure they currently install incorporates sustainable energy practices harnessing solar and wind power; what a great way to combine science and practical applications! My experience with CPS has included their provision of the excellent outerwear I needed for this trip, walking almost daily on boardwalks they have built to our research site, and now I've had the experience of Arctic Field Training. The Arctic Field Training class is provided to researchers preparing their teams for Arctic research on site at their universities, and also to folks on site here at Toolik who have arrived from all over the country.
The sign on the wall described everything we would be doing:
My researcher, Mike Weintraub, had encouraged me to sign up, so Tuesday morning found me in class; although as a student this time, not teacher! Things started out with the most important topic: Threats to Life. Of course this would be pretty important, and for the first hour or so we spent time reviewing the ABCDE's.
My team member Alex joined in, as well as fellow PolarTREC teacher Nick LaFave. Nick was successfully revived, of course, and we moved on into a bigger emergency scenario learning to assess a scene for hazards, incorporate our ABCDE's, and following up with how rescues are conducted and what we need to know about them. At Toolik, everyone is required to sign out on the Fieldwork board
The important things to note are there…especially the time of return, as well as an overdue time after which a search party will be organized for you. They know where to begin looking, because you put your location on the board! Having the board is part of our safety plan at Toolik, as well as having CB radios, first aid kits, and satellite phones in our trucks.
We moved on into a few important survival skills such as different techniques of fire building
Magnesium sparks are really hot!
We saw the most amazing video on cold shock and strategies for survival after crashing through lake ice that I'd ever seen! Did you know that if you can get past the gasping for that first few minutes after you fall in, you can then calm down and attempt to get yourself out? Who knew! Our project is all land based, but I bet that information would come in handy to these folks on Toolik Lake if conditions surprised them!
Notice the dark patches on the lake ice, those are spots of meltwater on top!
We learned about dressing for field work, and it was interesting what "must haves" we each felt we really needed to carry with us, mine was my toasty warm neck gator!
An interesting aspect to field safety is to manage the risk. Allen shared a lot of insight into decision making and group dynamics, things he's learned in his own outdoor experiences, including twenty years with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
The most anticipated part of the class, for me, was the bear safety training. The bear we are most likely to see around the area here is the grizzly bear.
Recall a few weeks ago one was sighted in camp, a rare occurrence and one that so far has not re-occurred. We learned a lot about bear behavior; Allen is big into letting us know what to expect so that we can better respond to a situation. For instance, a bear might charge you, and it be a false charge; the bear is actually being defensive at that point and really just wants you to go away. This is a very good idea! We learned how to be observant enough of the situation in order to figure out if the bear is behaving defensively or actively attacking you. Both are pretty disconcerting, let me tell you! We all carry bear spray, and the training provided us a chance to learn how to use it and practice with it.
Do you think I'm ready? Better still, now I've got a memory of how and when to use the spray, seen the distance the spray will cover, and have some confidence in its ability to deter a bear. On the other hand, I've seen the distance the spray will cover, and have definite ideas of the advantage of not having to confront a bear! Our day came to a close and the realization of all we had learned began to sink in. For such a jam packed course, the day was well paced and we really learned a lot. I'm looking forward to trying some new team building techniques back in my own classroom, and my biggest decision now is where to sew on this really nifty patch!