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Decision Making

July 21, 2017

Written By: Chris Marvel

     This year has been an eye-opening one for me in my professional career. After spending the last seven seasons in agriculture, this past January I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the Liberty University Outdoor Rec department. It has been a non-stop learning experience from the beginning. I have been acquiring and developing countless skills such as challenge course facilitation and river rescue techniques. Though one of the most important skills that I am continuing to develop is my ability to analyze and prepare for unpredictability.  In my past experiences as a farmer, planning a season includes all sorts of details ranging from when to plant, watering schedules, and projected harvest times.  Though at some point in the season, it can all be thrown off by the weather. There is no safety gear to protect a farmer’s crops from a damaging storm, flood, or extreme heat. Through my blend of farming and outdoor recreation experience, I have learned that Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with and requires our respect and preparation. 

     My experience in the farming world brought first hand opportunities to see how much weather has changed even in the last century and the dangers of its irregularity. I recently read this article published by the Washington Post on the effects of the controversial issue of climate change. The article suggests that in the past “global warming” was discussed to potentially help the farmer with a longer growing season. However, the new changes could be bringing colder temperatures that would hurt not only seasonal crops, but all kinds of vegetation. It is no secret that there has been an escalation in the severity of weather all across the world and it is becoming increasingly unpredictable. 

     So, how do we prepare for these unpredictable weather systems as outdoor enthusiasts?  As someone who grew up going camping, fishing and hiking, I was never the one responsible for planning the trip. When my parents said the car was packed, I begrudgingly climbed into the backseat only knowing the number of travel hours I had to endure until we reached our destination. Now being an outdoor professional, I am inspired to give my children experiences I had growing up.  To do this, I must learn to plan the adventures. Like the farming planning a season, I am trying to plan and predict the unpredictable force of nature.

     I am about to let you in on a big secret that one could argue is the glue that holds the LU Outdoor Rec department together; the Four E’s of Decision Making. We use this process as sort of a “risk analyzer” and teach it to all of our staff members.  Whether you are floating down the James River, planting a garden or hiking through the Appalachian Trail, it is important to take time to think through the details. The ever-changing and unpredictable force, Mother Nature is not something to be feared; however, it needs to be respected, enjoyed, and approached with a plan. If you are new to these activities or like me, simply rediscovering the forest and rivers, think through our Four E’s and enjoy your next adventure!

Be safe!

The Four E’s of Decision Making:

First, analyze the environment that you are entering into. This is made up of anything that is outside of your direct control.

  • What is the weather like (sun, precipitation, temperature, humidity)?  Will the weather change during our activity?
  • What is the geography like (terrain, water conditions, trail conditions)? 
  • What about other people, plants, or animals present?
  • Are you prepared to handle potential environmental concerns if they should arise?

The element is the actual thing that you will be doing.  It is important to analyze the details that will be involved in the activity itself.

  • What is the activity and where is it taking place?
  • How long will this element last?
  • Is somebody else aware that you are engaging in this element?  Do you have a plan to contact them?
  • Why are you participating in this element?

Experience matters!  It is very important to realize your level of experience regarding the certain activity.  This is not to say that beginners always struggle and experts never fail.  This is to become aware of the experience of the group and take this into consideration as you make your decisions.

  • Have members of the group partaken in this activity before?
  • Are they comfortable with this activity?
  • Who is the most experienced member in the party?  Are they available for advice and teaching opportunities?

You need to look around at the things that you have and be sure that it will get you through the element that you are performing. 

  • Are you adequately prepared with the right equipment?
  • Are you taking enough food or water?
  • Is your equipment in good condition?
  • Are you familiar with this equipment?
  • Are other participants familiar with this equipment?
  • Have you used this equipment under similar conditions?
  • Do you have back-up equipment?
  • Is your equipment in good condition? (AGAIN…Double-check it!)
Overall: Is it appropriate to be partaking in this ELEMENT, in this certain ENVIRONMENT, having this level of EXPERIENCE with this EQUIPMENT?