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When the scene access becomes the challenge

Editor's note: This story is in response to the recent news piece, "Rescuers battled weather, terrain at Alaska crash site." Read about how the conditions at the scene were so hazardous, helicopters couldn't even land, and watch the video.

The stories coming out of Alaska in the aftermath of former US Sen. Ted Stevens serve as reminders to follow the Boy Scout motto — be prepared. You would expect that for rural and frontier areas similar to the area of the crash, rescue teams are fairly well prepared and have expectations for events similar to this one.

But for those of us working in urban and suburban areas, don't be lulled into complacency that a challenging scene access wouldn't occur in your community.

For example, most people would consider San Francisco to be one of the most densely populated cities in the United States, and that is indeed true. But in several parts of the city, there are sheer cliffs that drop right into the ocean's edge.

It may take as long as an hour or more, using technical high angle rescue, to reach a victim who may be injured while climbing. Being lifted out by helicopter is not unusual. All of this can occur against the backdrop of the city skyline, making it somewhat surreal while the rescue is in progress.

So, here are a few key points to remember, in order to be prepared to respond to these challenging events:

1) Assess. Know your jurisdiction. Seek out geographic locations where access to a victim may be difficult. Enlist the planning department of your town or city, since they may know significant information. You may be surprised to find out about places that you may have never known about, even if you have lived in the community all of your life!

2) Plan. Pull out your protocols and policies. Does your organization have plans to respond to these types of events? Does it include key contact numbers, additional resources, and a call roster of personnel with specialized training?

3) Train. Paper plans are fine — they are needed. Tabletop exercises are better. Live training is best — It's one thing to think about hiking a mile or more through vegetation loaded with 40 pounds of gear. It's something else to actually do it. Remember — practice like you mean it.

4) Get the right equipment. Special events can call for special equipment. You may need to consider specialty carrying bags and technical equipment to make it as easy as possible to reach a remote site.

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