A Forest School leader with children in a woodland

5 Top Tips for Emergency Planning for Outdoor Learning

Whatever your background – teacher, PSA, Sessional worker or Forest School leader, everyone is bound by a professional duty of care to keep your participants safe and to be able to respond effectively in case of emergency. There are vast amounts of information on how to do this and many organisations will have a set template and series of procedures in place for emergency services. Sometimes these procedures are more urban or building based and may seem cumbersome or not relevant to an outdoor setting. Here are our 5 top tips to aid you in your own emergency planning for Outdoor Woodland Learning and Forest School sessions.

1. Plan your emergency response in advance

When you are putting together risk assessments really think about the relevance to your group, site and sessions. It can be all to easy to do a quick copy and paste but this action of thinking through scenarios can be really helpful. Once you have completed your risk assessments make sure your training and the equipment you carry is appropriate to the level of hazard identified.  Ensure your first aid kit is up to date and the contents are all there. Consider an ’emergency kit’ as well that might include additional foil blankets, roll mat, group shelter and spare clothing. At this point it’s also important to think about safe access and escape from your site both for you but also potentially for any emergency crews that need to come to your aid. Also consider ‘escape routes’ that may take you to safety quicker or to a roadside location quicker in order to meet up with an ambulance or other vehicle. Record all of this in a written plan then share it, review it and update it as required.

2. Make a Site Card with essential information

Even in fairly urban and suburban settings we can get in to some quite hard to reach areas in search of a peaceful and private outdoor learning space. Having a think about emergency access can be an important team exercise and making a site card can make a huge difference. This can all be written on an A5 laminated sheet and kept in a first aid or emergency kit. Everyone then can access the same information to communicate with emergency services and other staff.  Always include the name of the site if it has one (as it appears on any maps, not local colloquial names). When using the grid reference remember to include the letters before the 6-figure reference e.g. NJ 123 456.

Include on the card a map with the access points and routes for emergency services and write in the relevant post code, ‘what3words’ phrase, grid reference for each access point, landmark, car parks so you can easily describe the location over the phone using these phrases and numbers. Try to also have someone meet emergency services at the roadside and tell Emergency services the reference for this meeting place. Finally have a think about how vehicles can get close to your site – are there gates or height barriers that they will need through? If they have a combination locks and ensure these are also written on your site card.

3. Use a Casualty Monitoring Card

If things do go awry and you need the emergency services, passing on the most accurate information about your casualty can make a huge difference to their recovery. Download our free Casualty Monitoring Card – filling this out as you undertake your casualty assessment and monitoring will give you a bank of valuable information ready to hand over to emergency services. It doubles up as an incident report card as well so will be useful for filling in your own organisations reports later. You can then photograph it before you hand it over to the emergency services.

When phoning emergency services, it’s useful to also have a note of the mobile numbers of any other staff or helpers on site who can be contacted if one phone dies or drops out of signal. With this information and your site card anybody on site should have all the information they need to call 999 and guide emergency services to you. If you have very little signal or battery, you can always text 999 but you need to have your phone number pre-registered to do this.

4. Discuss the plan and the kit with your team

Having plans, cards and kit in place is great but make sure everyone on site knows the plan, is ready to act on it and knows what’s in the first aid or emergency kit. Have roles already planned out and that way everything will be kept as smooth as possible. These plans will vary based on your location, your group and the resources you have available. Personally, as the most experienced first aider, I generally assign myself to casualty care. I want another adult to look after the group, whether that is walking back to school or moving everyone to one side and getting in the group shelter for snacks and stories. Group shelters/ bothy bags can be amazing tools both for some rainy day excitement and also keeping the group safe and contained in case of an emergency.

You’ll also need someone to phone 999, another to meet emergency services, yet another to make the site safe (lifting any sharp tools, extinguishing fires etc.) and someone potentially helping you with the casualty. There is a lot going on here in a short space of time so communicating plans in advance can make all the difference! I generally have the “safe tree” where I will hang or pile the first aid and emergency kit containing the casualty and site cards, water, fire blanket, group shelter and anything else that may be required in an emergency. Hanging some of this kit at head height keeps it visible especially if you are working in dense plantation and keeps it all accessible to whoever needs it rather than having to dig through rucksacks and piles of kit in an already stressful situation.

An outdoor first aid kit with all components in view including scissors, bandages, record cards and a waterproof cary case.
Ensure your first aid kit is appropriate for all the hazards and ‘what ifs’ of your activity and location.
Some water bottles, a fire blanket and first aid kit in a woodland setting.
Set your first aid kit and other emergency kit in a prominent area for easier access.

5. Keep your skills and your emergency planning up to date

Fire drills are a norm in our daily lives but how many of us have ever run a first aid drill outside a training course? Keeping practical skills up to date is essential to providing good casualty care and reducing stress and panic on scene. Why not run through your emergency plan while the group has a snack, make sure your site cards are up to date and everyone knows what needs to be done in case of an emergency. It can be a good team building exercise as well and can be timed when you may have a new member of staff on site.

Take a moment and practice a skill from one of our YouTube channel videos, using some out of date first aid supplies or even just a rolled-up strip of fabric as a bandage. Make sure to challenge your plans and your skills. Regularly give yourself some “what if” scenarios and see how your plan works. The classic example being “what if it’s me that’s injured” – is the plan strong enough without one of the leaders?

Most importantly, invest in quality training when it comes time to requalify. First Aid for Forest Schools and Outdoor Learning, or Outdoor First Aid courses will allow you to practice those hands on skills that we all lose over time and allow you to reassess your plan alongside one of our excellent trainers. Our bespoke Scenario Training Days will be invaluable experience whilst training alongside your colleagues and looking at real life scenarios in your own settings. On these days our expert trainers will take you through your HSE recommended annual refresher whilst giving you additional realistic and relevant training specifically for your setting. It’s a good test of that Emergency Plan too!