California is a large state with diverse geographic regions where people come from around the world to enjoy beaches, rivers, mountains, lakes, and deserts. Living amidst amazing outdoor spaces, we also live with the risk of environmental conditions; most notably snow, heat, wildfires and earthquakes. This page provides insight into how Outward Bound California maintains awareness of these conditions, makes thoughtful decisions about risk management, and remains prepared to adjust as conditions change.
High Snow Years
Every few years, winter storms bring high levels of snow to the High Sierra mountains. When this happens, it is not uncommon to see high levels of snow extend well into summer, particularly at higher elevations. If your course is happening in June or early July during a high snow year, you can expect to spend a significant amount of your course traveling on snow. Please review your Packing List for gear required in high snow years, be prepared for intense sun, and reach out to your course advisor with questions.
Who on our team monitors this?
Our Safety Director and Program Directors monitor conditions regularly and connect with land management agencies as needed to understand current conditions.
What is our plan in the event of a high snow year?
Our instructors are trained to teach you the skills needed to ensure safe travel on snow, and crossing certain types of terrain is even easier on the snow. We are watching water levels where we have river/creek crossings, and will adjust itineraries as needed. As a bonus, you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of seeing snow-capped peaks and may have opportunities for fun things like glissading!
High Heat Advisory
Temperatures tend to be more moderate in the High Sierra mountains than in lower elevation areas in California. Even in the middle of summer, highs are generally in the 70s-80s and the heat warnings you may see in the news rarely apply to our courses. Be advised that weather in the central valley city of Fresno (where High Sierra courses start/end) is very different than in the mountains where the students will be during the course. Our Joshua Tree course area can get warm in March-April (daytime highs in the 80s) but we end our programs in this region prior to the peak heat of the late spring and summer.
Regardless of the course area or season, when temperatures exceed 90 degrees (factoring in humidity and wind) instructors adjust course activities to manage comfort and risk of heat-related illness. This includes traveling during cooler times of the day and resting when temperatures are highest, and cooling off in water when available. We always encourage students to stay well hydrated, wear appropriate clothing for sun protection and communicate their needs to instructors.
Wildfires, by definition, are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas. As we utilize the wilderness as our classroom, we are aware that wildfires are an ongoing consideration, especially in the drier months of the year. The increased fire risk and active fires in California in recent years is a reminder of the responsibility we have as we travel on public lands.
Which resources do we utilize?
We work with local, state, and federal land management agencies that oversee regions where we operate that are at risk of fire or impacted by wildfire smoke. The Cal Fire website is a valuable tool that we reference frequently, along with monitoring air quality via AirNow.gov. Our internal smoke management protocols are based on the federalCenter for Disease Control standards and determine impacts of smoke and how we modify course activities and staff operations accordingly.
Who on our team monitors this?
Our Safety Director, High Sierra, Bay Area, and Joshua Tree Program Directors and their teams check these websites frequently and also receive incident alerts from local sheriff departments and land managers. We also consult with the members of our Board Safety Committee, which comprises both medical professionals and experts from the field of risk management for outdoor programs. Our program teams share information as needed with the rest of the organization, including direct communication with staff in the field, updates in our staff meetings, and conversations with course directors and instructors during pre-course briefings.
What is our plan in the event of active fires in our course areas or poor air quality?
We work directly with local, state, and federal agencies to reroute our itineraries to a location that is outside of the threatened area. In the case of poor air quality, we may reduce activity levels, adjust activities, wear particulate respirators (such as KN-95 of N-95 masks, depending on availability), and/or move locations. If there is not a reasonable alternative location, we may remove students from the field and end the course early.
What is our plan in the event of active fires in our basecamp areas?
We have a site evacuation plan posted at each program office, listing protocols for evacuating staff, students, and animals off the premises. If conditions do not allow our program team to safely support students on programs, we would remove students from the field.
Given the sudden onset of earthquakes and difficulty predicting when they will occur we have clear procedures in place to respond in the event of an earthquake. While earthquakes are not uncommon, they are rarely strong enough to present a safety concern in outdoor areas away from human structures. Additionally, they are typically not felt in the higher elevations of our High Sierra and Yosemite program areas given the amount of solid granite beneath the ground.
Who on our team monitors this?
Similar to wildfires, our Safety Director and regional Program Directors monitor conditions regularly and connect with land management agencies as needed to understand current conditions.
What is our plan in the event of an earthquake?
If an earthquake occurs near one of our course areas or operations bases, we monitor the USGS website and assess the impact on students and staff. Often there is no need for action. In the rare event that an earthquake occurs that is strong enough to cause damage to structures and conditions do not allow our program team to safely support students on programs, we would remove them from the field.
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