Creating a Critical Incident Response Plan

Is your outdoor recreation business or organization prepared to respond to an emergency?

What is a Critical Incident Response Plan?

Critical Incident Response is how your outdoor recreation business or organization plans to respond to situations resulting in serious injury or fatality to a victim. You may hear these situations referred to as “outdoor recreation emergencies” or “outdoor recreation accidents”.  At Recreation Law group, we prefer the more precise term, “critical incident”.

In outdoor adventure, a certain amount of risk is inherent to the activity itself. From whitewater rafting to horseback riding, ziplining to multiday wilderness backpacking trips, risk can often not be effectively eliminated, altered, or controlled. Instead, risk should be anticipated. As an outdoor recreation business or organization, you can assume you and your employees will eventually respond to a critical incident in the outdoors.  The question is not “if” but “when.”

Common types of critical incidents in outdoor recreation include management and care for people with physical injuries, medical problems, or serious behavioral issues.  Again, a critical incident is an incident that results in serious injury or fatality to a victim.  Responding effectively demands the systematic and sustained attention of an entire team. Competent critical incident response will involve coordinating between your office/headquarters, the on-scene issue, and potentially, outside emergency medical services.

Why develop a Critical Incident Response Plan?

Beyond the initial incident, how you and your staff respond to these situations can have extensive and long-lasting impacts to your business or organization. Litigation, financial burden, emotional trauma to your clients or team, and a host of other issues can arise when incidents are not handled in professional and competent manner. Recreation Law Group develops Critical Incident Response Plans (CIRP) and trains outdoor recreation businesses and organizations how to use Critical Incident Response Plans because they are a key tool in increasing competent, effective response and decreasing the potential for litigation.

What is a Critical Incident Response Plan?

A Critical Incident Response Plan, or CIRP, should include a set of command structures, checklists, policies, and procedures that help your outdoor business or organization plan for and respond to accidents and emergency situations. The content of your document will vary based on the unique character of your outdoor recreation business or organization. The plan should be designed to fit your specific needs and operating parameters and should be regularly reviewed by an attorney who understands your business and how lawsuits against outdoor businesses arise.

A CIRP is a key part of risk management for outdoor recreation businesses and organizations. At Recreation Law Group, we create CIRP documents for our clients that include easy to use checklists, scripts, and other incident-related materials. This document should include detailed plans for both the in-office response team and on-scene response team. It should also include guidelines around how to interact with outside entities including EMS, the press, land-management agencies, and more.

Formatting Your Plan

It’s important that your plan is easy to find and simple to use during a critical incident. We suggest printing your plan and storing it in a tabbed binder in your office or headquarters. We also recommend having multiple copies and storing them in primary vehicles, at your home, or other locations you frequent during the operating season. Especially if you offer overnight or multiday trips, critical incidents won’t always occur during traditional business hours.

Any on-scene tools should be weather-proofed for the environment they will be used in. For example, if you are a whitewater rafting or drift boat fly fishing operation, we recommend laminating your on-scene tool. It can also be helpful to size the tool so it fits into equipment your staff is already using such as a pelican case or first aid kit.

Training Staff 

It is not enough to have a plan in a binder on a shelf or an on-scene response tool printed. For a Critical Incident Response Plan to assist during an emergency response, you and your staff should practice implementing your plan before an emergency occurs. Recreation Law Group clients who participate in a Critical Incident Response Training and Scenario often remark that practicing a scenario helped them identify weak spots in their plan. This allows them to adjust and improve before an actual emergency occurs.

Training should include a background in the legal and risk management framework of Critical Incident Response and familiarizing your team with your particular plan. It should also include a hands-on, practice scenario involving the incident command structure. This scenario should involve your company or organization’s communication devices such as InReach or satellite phones. Even in practice, these scenarios can be high-stress and emotionally or physically taxing for your staff. Allow time to debrief following the scenario and discuss what went well and what might be improved.

Overall, a comprehensive Critical Incident Response Plan is a key part of risk management for outdoor recreation businesses and organizations. The best time to implement a response plan is before an incident occurs. Recreation Law Group can answer your questions and offer advice on any aspect of your Critical Incident Response Plan. From how to begin, to auditing your existing approach, we are here to help.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice, nor should it be viewed as such. Legal advice can only be provided based on specific facts. We recommend, as we must, that you consult an attorney before implementing any advice in this blog post. Receiving or viewing this blog post does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

Share This

How Can We Help?

Peace of mind is within reach. Reach out today for a no-cost conversation about how the Recreation Law Group can support your business or organization.