Creating a Diverse Community of Risk Managers

By Lexi Golestani

Jan 1, 2018

two people wearing baseball caps stand together to read a map
Photo courtesy of Open Sky

The NOLS Risk Management Training (RMT) is designed to educate and empower administrators to develop or adapt their risk management practices to best suit their organization’s needs. View the upcoming schedule here.

Each RMT focuses on five areas of risk management: risk management oversight; risk-mission alignment; administrative processes (think: paperwork, marketing, etc.); staff training and field risk management; and emergency and crisis planning. The training provides a framework for risk management planning, and an opportunity to connect with, problem solve, and learn from others in similar positions.

What do Antarctic support contractors, wilderness therapy providers, summer camp directors, mountain guides, adventure travel companies, and university outdoor programs have in common? They all actively manage risks in dynamic environments, some wildly different from one program to the next, and others remarkably similar. Participants from these industry sub-groups attended an open-enrollment RMT in Denver in the fall of 2017, where they spent two days learning together and from each other about risk management.

Whether a tenured administrator, or a seasoned field instructor newly inducted into the desk-job life, creating or revising risk management plans can seem daunting. Allison Fowle, Camps and Family Programs Specialist for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, explains a little about what she learned on the course:

“A big takeaway is definitely that any step is helpful; while I don't have time to create an entire risk management plan quickly, I'm no longer too intimidated to start the process, and I'm able to celebrate small victories.”

two birders squat in the grass, one looking through a telescope on a tripod
Photo courtesy of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies

Those victories might be increased organization, communication, or awareness. Other RMT grads weighed in on their takeaways: Pat Betcher, Program Director for Second Nature Wilderness Family Therapy, expressed that the RMT has helped them with “organization and a shared [risk management] understanding that creates cohesion.”

Danny Frazer, Program Director for Open Sky, echoed similar sentiments, with a strong focus on the action that stems from that sort of shared understanding: “The big one is that [risk management] is everyone’s responsibility and when a culture embraces this, there is more ownership and less blame. Ownership is proactive and puts us in a position to improve whereas blame puts us in a limiting, defensive position and in a position of reactivity.”

line of hikers wearing backpacks walk single file along a rocky outcrop
Photo courtesy of Open Sky

A shared vision, and commitment to that vision, is important in nearly all realms of business, risk management included. Allison adds that the RMT has already helped them at the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies work more effectively as a team, reevaluate where their top priorities should be, and given them more focus.

smiling teens stand in a line along a rocky trail in mountains dotted with snow patches
Photo courtesy of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies

And when we asked if anyone had any advice to share with others in similar positions, Danny said, “Don’t rely on your experience alone as an exceptional outdoor leader, reach out and connect with others and learn from those organizations who have learned from their mistakes. It will make your organization better!” RMTs are excellent opportunities for just that. With a variety of organizations in attendance, the risk management community created during the course is an excellent resource afterwards as well.

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Written By

Lexi Golestani

Lexi is a NOLS Risk Services Intern currently based out of Lander, WY. She likes kayaking over waterfalls, climbing up rocks, frolicking in the wilderness, & writing about her (mis)adventures. When she's not at NOLS, she's a naturalist guide & whitewater kayak instructor in the PNW.

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Editor's Note: Tara Verenna, the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Korea International School (KIS), runs an Experiential Education program focused on outdoor learning for students grades 4-12. Tara sought out NOLS for a Risk Management Training course (RMT), which ran in mid-September 2017. We caught up with Tara afterward to learn about her experience, and how the concepts and guidance provided by the RMT are helping to shape KIS’ risk management policies and procedures.

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