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risk management when camping


  • to live is to take risks
  • to reduce harm is to manage those risks

The human factor

  • is it legal?
  • lack of preparation, knowledge and understanding
    • failure to risk manage:
      • dehydration risk
      • hypothermia risk / hyperthermia risk
      • UV protection
      • wet weather protection
      • mosquito protection - they can carry deadly or nasty viruses such as encephalitis viruses
      • navigation management such as map and compass as well as smartphone or GPS, and recovery options such as carrying an EPIRB and informing others of destination and expected return time
      • trauma - first aid care
    • in May 2021, 21 very fit alpine ultramarathon runners (of 171 who participated) died from hypothermia when a storm hit
  • risky behaviours
    • being foolish is not really a great option
    • being drunk or drug affected seriously raises the risk of harm:
      • falling into fires
      • failing to do safety checks for gas BBQs before lighting them
      • falling asleep with unattended fires
      • other injuries due to falls, etc
      • aggression and violence risk, esp. when everyone is cranky and intolerant with short tempers on extreme hot weather days
    • leaving camp fires unattended or lighting them on Total Fire Ban days:
  • stubborness in the face of danger
    • yes, we have all been there - put a lot of energy into planning and preparations, taken time off work, and then then weather forecast turns sour - do we or do we not cancel or at least change destination plans
    • in June 2021, a Low pressure system brought over 200m rain and very strong winds to Victoria's alpine region blowing over perhaps hundreds of thousands of tall mountain gums and pines, not only destroying over 100 houses but damaging access roads which were blocked by the massive gums and knocked out regional water, electricity supplies and mobile phone towers for over a month - obviously even if you did survive in your tent because you chose a sheltered location away from falling trees, strong winds, flooding and landslides you were not going to be getting out of there for a long time and you were not going to be able to call for help so easily. If bad weather is predicted - cancel your plans!
  • accidental harm from third parties
    • cars driving over poorly visible swags at night
    • road traffic accidents especially on busy “long” weekends or school holiday periods
  • malevalence
    • the main crime issue in camp grounds is petty theft and break and enter crimes
    • there will always be those who seek to take advantage of vulnerability or opportunity for theft and complacency of campers is a major contributor to risk of petty theft
    • fortunately major crimes at camp grounds are rare in Australia
    • see camping security for more details on minimising theft, etc

The weather

alpine influences

  • if air is well mixed (as in windy conditions), the air temperature decreases with increasing altitude at a rate of 0.6–1.0°C per 100 m for humid air, and about 1.0°C per 100 m for dry air.
  • moist air masses hitting a steep mountain will be pushed upwards resulting in cloud and rain on that side of the mountain and warmer drier air over the other side of the mountain
  • the reduced friction at high elevations means winds are stronger and more steady - the wind speed on open land above 1000 m is 2-2.5x stronger than on low-lying land.
  • sunlight at 1200m has twice the UV radiation as at sea level

convection lightning storms

  • being caught outdoors in a storm is dangerous and these can occur quite quickly without much warning and are especially a risk in alpine areas where the harm can be much greater
  • may occur in fair weather days in the late afternoon or evening following convective columns over hot land
  • may occur preceding cold fronts
  • are common in association with low pressure systems and humid weather
  • sound of the thunder travels 1 km in 3 seconds
  • risks:
    • lightning
      • in summer this will also create a bush fire risk
      • when the time between lightning and thunder is less than 30secs (ie. storm is less than 10km away), you become at risk of being hit by lightning
    • hail - if large enough, can easily compromise your shelter and risk physical injury
    • flash flooding - especially in valleys and risk of land slides
    • gale force winds
      • likely to compromise your shelter and break tent poles
      • high risk of injury from falling trees or branches or flying debris
      • will significantly increase risk of hypothermia due to wind chill
      • high chance that fallen trees will block your routes out of the camp ground as well as damage local power and mobile phone infrastructure - often for weeks!
    • rain will risk you and your gear getting wet and risk severe hypothermia
    • rarely a tornado may form
    • in May 2021, 28 of 172 ultramarathon runners died and 8 others were injured in China when a freak storm hit with high winds and freezing rains causing severe hypothermia whilst they were running across the mountain trek, some wearing only T shirts and shorts. Many lost their way due to poor visibility.
  • risk mitigation
    • avoid camping (and delay setting up tents until the storm has passed) if storms are forecast or at least keep away from:
      • exposed sites such as ridges, open slopes, coastal areas, near bodies of water
      • any high points; crags, rock outcrops, isolated trees, power lines.
      • gorges or narrow river valleys are particularly dangerous as risk of flash flooding
      • being adjacent to large trees which may be hit by lightning or blown over by the wind
      • standing or sitting on tree roots
      • entrances of caves or under rocky overhangs
      • any metal objects (but getting inside a car or a building is a good option)
      • other hiking members to reduce risk you all get hit
    • lightning and how to reduce your risks such as adopting lightning posture

cold fronts

  • these are usually predictable a few days ahead thanks to the weather bureau and by the presence of high cirrus clouds forming well ahead of the front or high flying aircraft leaving long-lasting contrails in the air which indicates relatively high levels of moisture.
  • may be preceded by very strong winds and thunderstorms and the rare tornado
  • are followed by cold air masses, clear skies (add to cold night risk) with frequent periods of rain showers
    • at elevations above 900m may result in snow falling especially if the air mass is polar maritime rather than southern ocean maritime
    • hypothermia is a major risk especially at higher elevations
    • faster moving type a cold fronts generate powerful cumulonimbus storm cloud systems ahead of the front
    • slower moving type b cold fronts generate a larger altostratus and nimbostratus cloud covering a wide area ahead of the front and producing a longer period of rainfall after the front has passed
  • risk mitigation
    • see as for storms
    • plus avoid being at high elevations as risk of hypothermia is high

low pressure systems

  • these are predictable in advance by a few days and generally cause prolonged heavy rain periods often lasting 24-72hrs and flooding often with periods of strong winds which are likely to blow down even the biggest gum trees which will cause road access issues as well as knock out regional power, internet, mobile phones and water for weeks
  • may be associated with frequent thunderstorm activity
  • of course in the tropics these may form or come from cyclones which are certainly not a time to go camping!
  • risk mitigation
    • see as for storms
    • be aware that roads and tracks may become impassable for a few weeks
    • land slides may be an issue
    • ensure you take extra steps to keep your gear dry as it is unlikely to dry out for several days

really hot days 35-45deg C

  • dehydration, UV burns, hyperthermia and confusion are all high risks and death can come quickly for the unprepared
  • bushfires are a major risk, especially if there is also a forecast of thunderstorms
  • risk mitigation
    • do not hike in bushfire prone regions on Extreme bushfire risk days
    • avoid hiking on very hot days but if you must, then take plenty of water - much more than usual, wear protective sun cover clothing and regularly drink as much water as possible

very cold nights

  • this is mainly an issue in inland areas, in valleys, or in alpine areas, particularly when there are clear skies with little wind which allows the local ground to become colder
  • risk mitigation

Animal life

  • the most common issue is that of insects - mosquitoes, sand flies, bull ants
    • these are largely mitigated by no-see-um mesh in modern tents
    • mosquito bites and the risk of infections such as Ross River virus, Japanese encephaitis virus, etc can be further reduced by:
      • cover skin when outdoors
      • use of insect repellants when outdoors
      • additional use of a mosquito net hanging inside your 4P or larger tent to drape over your bed
  • ticks while walking can be an issue on the eastern coastline in particular
  • leeches can be an annoyance walking in rainforests
  • venomous snakes are common but usually only a danger if one does not see them whilst walking and steps on or near them. or is stupid enough to try to catch them without training
    • Australian venomous snakes are diurnal and generally only active at night on hot nights
  • rodents, wombats and other animals, and even occasionally, large bullants, may create a hole in a tent if they smell food or other smelly things (including perfume, smelly socks or backpacks inside)
  • in the tropics, crocodiles can be an issue if camping close to water

Trees and other plants

sudden limb drop

  • some trees, in particular, some species of Eucalyptus such as red gum and yellow box have a potentially lethal and silent habit of suddenly dropping large branches without warning even when there is no wind
  • general advice is not to camp under large branches of such trees
  • risk is perhaps 1-2% per annum for such trees with branches 10-30cm in diameter
    • mainly occurs in summer, especially after a drought
    • thus if one assumes risk is around 1% over 3-4 months then the risk of branch falling whilst camping overnight in summer is perhaps of the order of 1 in 20,000 per night camping under such a branch. Risk may be significantly higher in periods of high winds.

stinging plants

  • mainly a problem in northern Queensland

Additional factors taking young and even not so young kids

  • will they drown if not closely watched?
    • unfenced rivers, dams, etc are a risk
  • will they wander off and get lost?
  • will they get hit by a car?
    • are the fences to stop wandering onto main roads, etc?
    • is there adequate traffic management within the camp ground?
  • is there phone reception in case they get into trouble?
  • are there likely to be bad humans around?
    • caravan parks with onsite managers may be more safe in this regard
    • very hot days are conducive to people getting very drunk and some can get aggressive
  • are there likely to be snakes in the camp ground
    • eg. camp sites adjacent to natural bush or rivers, east end of 33rd/34th Ave Tidal River Wilsons Prom
australia/camping_risks.txt · Last modified: 2022/07/14 12:16 by gary1

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