Case Study: AdventureSmart: “Know before you go”
AdventureSmart is an interactive and comprehensive outdoor education program intended to help people safely enjoy the outdoors.
Since 2004, BC AdventureSmart has been working to increase awareness about outdoor safety with the aim of reducing the number and severity of search and rescue (SAR) incidents in the province. Based on provincial success, the program went national in 2009.
In 2022, there were 1,500 SAR calls in BC, based on SAR data-driven insights. These calls are tasked out and responded to by 3,400 volunteers across the province. The top three reasons for search and rescue incidents are injury, becoming lost or disoriented, and exceeding abilities.1 Reported SAR incidents are typically more common in areas closer to metropolitan centres because easy access to outdoor and backcountry terrain often gives enthusiasts a false sense of security. This was further exemplified during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic—there was a 30% increase in SAR call volume, as more people, often with limited experience, engaged in outdoor activities.
National AdventureSmart Program and Delivery
Nationally, AdventureSmart offers five different outdoor education courses, two of which focus on snow safety and winter activities. These programs are intended to encourage Canadians and visitors to be prepared and informed before heading outdoors.
AdventureSmart’s safety programs are approximately one hour long. They are free, available in-person or online, and are presented by volunteer AdventureSmart Outdoor Educators. Educators are outdoor enthusiasts, such as Search and Rescue volunteers, who want to mentor others on how to safely enjoy the outdoors. AdventureSmart outdoor educators use consistent language and curriculum to standardize program delivery across Canada.
The goal of each program is to reinforce the message, “Know before you go,” where program educators emphasize the importance of the 3Ts:
- Trip planning,
- Training (skills & knowledge), and
- Taking the essentials for an optimal outdoor experience.
Additional information on each of these topics is available on the AdventureSmart website and includes specific messaging for various terrains, weather, and activities.
More than 300,000 British Columbians have participated in AdventureSmart’s education programs since 2005.
Survive Outside Program
This education program explains the basics of what to do in an emergency and surviving in the outdoors. Survive Outside uses the STOP analogy (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan (then Act)). Educators discuss the difference between primary and secondary communication devices (cell versus satellite), and proper preparation using the 3Ts.
The Paddlesmart course educates the public about safety during non-motorized water activities, such as paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking. One topic covered includes signs of hypo- and hyperthermia, and the “1-10-1 Principle” as it relates to cold water immersion. This program goes into detail about rip currents, river hazards, and water signals that can be used to communicate with others.
Hug-a-Tree and Survive Program
This interactive program teaches elementary school-aged children how to survive if they get lost in the woods, and how to avoid becoming lost in the first place. To date, this presentation has been delivered in person to over 250,000 children in Canada, with 29% of program delivery occurring in BC. To complement this, the AdventureSmart website offers a free interactive game where children can learn about packing the essentials, and what to do if they find themselves lost, with an emphasis on staying in one place until help arrives. In-person presentations provide students with an emergency blanket and safety whistle to add to their adventure kits.
Snow Safety and Education Program
There has been an increase in popularity of winter activities, including ski touring, snowshoeing, and winter hiking using micro-spikes. This program is intended to foster awareness of the risks associated with winter activities mentioned above, emphasizing the Alpine Responsibility Code. There is an ‘in-bounds’ portion of this program and a ‘backcountry’ portion which covers basic backcountry awareness such as, decision making, engaging with risk, avalanche awareness, self-rescue, and more.
Survive Outside – Snowmobiling
Survive Outside covers safety when backcountry snowmobiling. This course emphasizes some prevention measures that snowmobilers should consider, such as checking avalanche conditions, exercising caution when riding at night, and operating the machine in a responsible manner. The program also includes information on being prepared and well-equipped in case survival overnight is necessary.
Trip Plan App
This mobile app was designed to help users create a detailed trip plan for their outdoor adventures. Users have the option to send their plan to family and friends. The app contains tips regarding what to do in an emergency and steps for outdoor survival, this information can be accessed without a cell phone signal. In 2022, there were 12,730 app downloads, with BC accounting for more than 25% of all downloads.
Evaluation in British Columbia
BC AdventureSmart has three guiding principles:
- Data-driven insights,
- Strategic partnerships, and
- Targeted initiatives.
In BC, search and rescue teams record incidents through a program called Decisions for Heroes (D4H). This system records data entered by SAR personnel after an incident, providing detailed information about each incident to the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA). Details that are collected include: location (region and specific area), subject, experience and level of preparedness, date, weather conditions, SAR group involved, and whether support from any additional agencies (fire, police, helicopter, ambulance) was required. There is a visual display of incident data on the BCSARA website.
The data collected is used by BCSARA and BC AdventureSmart, as colleagues, to update and develop training and education programs and inform injury prevention education across the province.
Through emergency response incident summaries, Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (EMCR) also provides public information about SAR incidents. These reports contain general information such as the date, location, and general description of the incident. To help SAR groups operate more effectively, EMCR collaborates closely with BCSARA to create a framework for ground SAR crews that includes various protocols, safety, and response techniques. As of April 2022, EMCR no longer posts weekly reports; however, archived information is available.
Over 500 volunteer outdoor educators in BC have been trained and recognized by BC AdventureSmart.
Results and Impact
BC AdventureSmart is available and delivered in every region of BC. There are 12 unique areas, defined by the BCSARA: South Island, North Island, Southwest, Fraser Valley, West Kootenay, East Kootenay, Okanagan Similkameen, Thompson Okanagan, North-West, Bulkley-Nechako, Cariboo, and North East.
Over 500 volunteer outdoor educators in BC have been trained and recognized by BC AdventureSmart and volunteer across the entire province. Volunteers’ backgrounds are diverse, including individuals who are: teachers, tourism representatives, outdoor guides, camp leaders, and industry affiliates. AdventureSmart’s programs have been delivered both in-person and virtually, and safety messages are shared through social and traditional media.
In 2022, over 8,000 people visited the national AdventureSmart website seeking safety information. Since the organization’s inception, the six AdventureSmart Programs have been delivered over 12,000 times, providing more than 800,000 Canadians with information on outdoor safety. Over one-third of these participants live in BC.
In response to the high number of incidents reported in British Columbia, specifically the Lower Mainland, BC AdventureSmart has produced detailed, trail-specific safety videos on the BCSARA’s website and YouTube. These videos outline each trail, and draw attention to hazardous areas and considerations for hikers before they embark on their hike. The BC Search and Rescue YouTube channel also shares recordings of The BC AdventureSmart Safety Series seminars, with guests from the outdoor education industry. Topics covered range from backcountry ski touring to personal accounts of getting lost while hiking in the summer.
The success of AdventureSmart in British Columbia is due, in part, to strong collaborations with industry partners, such as Avalanche Canada, BC Search and Rescue, EMCR, and BC Parks. These groups, and others, have helped with the optimization and expansion of AdventureSmart’s programs. AdventureSmart’s engagement with both rural and urban communities has helped reduce the severity of SAR incidents. By way of educating users on preparedness through improving trip planning and preparation skills. Finally, the expansion of AdventureSmart from a provincial to a national program has established the organization as an industry leader in outdoor education and preparedness.