While we accept the beauty of the natural world, we must also accept its volatility. For many of us at The Outdoor Education Group, our office is the great outdoors, and we recognise its ever-changing nature. Severe weather preparedness is essential for all outdoor education providers. With policies and procedures in place and a dedicated and responsive team working behind the scenes, we identify hazards, assess risks and act quickly with the safety of school staff, participating students and our community in mind.
WHAT IS A SEVERE WEATHER WARNING?
Severe weather warnings are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology and relate to weather which primarily includes extreme winds or storms; specifically, they can include high winds or damaging winds, thunderstorms, marine wind warnings and flood warnings.
HOW WE MANAGE A SEVERE WEATHER WARNING
Our Field Duty Manager, who is on call 24 hours a day to support groups in the field, monitors weather conditions, as do our Course Coordinators.
Our team has years of experience interpreting weather forecasts and they understand how to respond to emerging situations. If we identify something in the forecast leading us to suspect there may be a storm in the next 24 hours, we remain vigilant until we are confident the threat has passed.
When a severe weather warning is issued, the Course Coordinator and Outdoor Educator, supported by the Field Duty Manager, assess what kind of activity or venue alterations are required, if any. For example, a severe weather warning may mean winds too strong for safe canoeing; in this instance, the program might change locations, sometimes via shuttle, to continue the activity elsewhere or swap out one activity for another.
OUR SEVERE WEATHER WARNING POLICY
The Outdoor Education Group’s Severe Weather Warning Policy means whenever a severe weather warning is issued for the region in which a program is running, our team will ensure student groups are camped at a severe weather warning compliant site for the night.
Our venue database includes severe weather warning compliant sites identified across the states in which we operate; these are campsites clear of tree fall zones, providing overflow options and access to water. During the program design stage, we allocate a severe weather warning compliant site to each program, ensuring one of these sites is always nearby; when this is not possible, we make sure we can transport them to one.
Our team will review the upcoming week’s weather before supporting or leading a program. Although we prepare as best we can, sometimes nature has other plans. Our agility as an organisation means we can respond quickly to weather changes to ensure we meet the needs and objectives of the schools we work with.
A REAL EXAMPLE
In the middle of an expedition earlier this year, the forecast indicated multiple days of heavy rain for the remainder of the program. When we identified the severe weather, the student group and their Outdoor Educator were in a shuttle-accessible area. However, they were scheduled to enter an area by a river which would have posed vehicle accessibility challenges.
The Field Duty Manager, the Risk team and the Course Coordinator made the decision to shuttle the group out of the area and arranged for them to camp at a nearby severe weather warning compliant caravan park where they had access to hot water for showers, the ability to build a campfire and to hang up any wet clothes undercover.
Because the severe weather continued for several days, the group remained at the caravan park, enjoying team-building sessions, group initiatives and environmental education sessions. Although the experience was different from the original program design, our team ensured the program redesign met the educational outcomes of the school, and the students had the facilities they needed to remain sheltered from the elements – they also had an unforgettable time!
During a journey program this year, we had to change venues for several student groups due to escalating weather conditions. While two groups were able to continue their programs at our centre-based camp, one group had to return to school - but not to the classroom. In consultation with the school, we delivered their program on school grounds and camped overnight in the gym.
As educators, we consider it our responsibility to deliver meaningful educational experiences. Even in challenging conditions, with a team behind the scenes supporting us, we work together with the school to adjust the program and ensure we meet their learning objective. In these moments, we often see students practice great teamwork, explore resilience and build strong connections with their peers and the natural world.