Safety: Our Highest Priority

Wilderness therapy is proven to be a safe intervention for teens and young adults. Open Sky is committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety in all aspects of our operation: utilizing state-of-the-art equipment for communications and wilderness living, providing ongoing professional risk management training for our field guides and operations staff, while always having 24-hour on-call personnel available every day for any circumstance that might arise in the wilderness.


The Seven Keys to Safety at Open Sky

girls team with packs onSafety is our single greatest priority. Open Sky devotes countless resources and time to ensuring the safety and security of our students and personnel. In accordance with the best practices in the industry and a refined incident review and policy revision process, Open Sky maintains among the safest settings available in wilderness therapy.

At Open Sky, we employ seven keys to ensure safety:
  1. Field Guide Selection & Training
  2. Field Communication Systems
  3. Professional Support Personnel & Emergency Response Team
  4. Professional Medical Personnel & Nearby Medical Facilities
  5. State-of-the-art Safety Equipment & Four Wheel-Drive Vehicles
  6. Incident Debrief, Review & Policy Revision
  7. Risk Management-Based Policies and Procedures

Field Guide Selection & Training

Field guides spend more time with students than any other member of the Open Sky treatment team. As one of the key members of the treatment team, field guides provide the daily support, structure, and leadership for each team of students while they are at Open Sky and are most vital to ensuring the safety of each student.

Open Sky’s primary mission is to maintain each student’s safety at all times. Field guides and operations support staff are selected and trained with this as the highest consideration. New field guides and support staff attend a 12-day training at the start of their employment including 8 field days.

Training topics include:guide-training-spring-09
  • Wilderness safety
  • Run-away prevention
  • Self-harm prevention
  • De-escalation
  • Emotional safety
  • First Aid and CPR
  • Medication administration
  • Weather-related challenges
  • Communication systems
  • Medical emergency

After the initial training, a field guide will receive ongoing training each week for the duration of their employment in such areas as risk management, therapeutic skills, psychological diagnosis and treatment, communication protocol, safety equipment, emergency response, and first aid.

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Field Communication Systems

Open Sky is committed to having the most sophisticated communications available today. Scheduled twice each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, our guides are required to check in with the support personnel via handheld radio, satellite phone or cell phone. Each non-scheduled call made out of the field has a response sequence appropriate to the needs of the particular matter at hand. Emergency calls for medical or clinical response are attended to quickly and efficiently.

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Professional Support Personnel & Emergency Response Team

Back-up staff and vehicleWe have full-time support personnel on-duty at all times, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The support staff monitor the radio and phone at all times in case a team is in need of any kind of support, such as managing inclement weather, getting water delivered, assisting with logistics or responding to a medical incident.

In addition to our on-duty support personnel, we also have a team of emergency responders available and within short distance of the field should additional support be needed. Each day, we have operations and field leadership team members that are on-duty and carry a cell phone with them at all times to respond to any potential need for their support 24 hours a day.

Open Sky maintains strong relationships with our local search and rescue teams and can communicate and coordinate with them should someone get lost or need additional assistance.

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Professional Medical Personnel & Nearby Medical Facilities

Smiling The Open Sky medical team is the most sophisticated and well-educated team available and is comprised of a registered nurse, field EMT, psychologist, a consulting naturopathic doctor, two medical assistants, and a licensed medical doctor. A member of our medical team is on duty each day, 24 hours a day to provide medical assistance to our clients as needed. Under most circumstances, the medical on-call staff will be utilized to provide phone consultation with our field guides to support a minor injury or illness sustained by a student. As needed, our medical on-call staff will make arrangements for additional medical support or make arrangements to see the student themselves, if that is warranted.

Each team is led by a nationally-certified Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) field guide.

Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

The 80-hour WFR curriculum includes standards for urban and extended care situations. Special topics include but are not limited to: wound management and infection, realigning fractures and dislocations, improvised splinting techniques, patient monitoring and long term management problems, up-to-date information on all environmental emergencies, plus advice on drug therapies.

Source: NOLS www.nols.edu/wmi/courses/wildfirstresponder.shtml

To learn more about WFRs go to:

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

The EMT-Basic represents the first component of the emergency medical technician system. An EMT trained at this level is prepared to care for patients at the scene of an accident and while transporting patients by ambulance to the hospital under medical direction. The EMT-Basic has the emergency skills to assess a patient’s condition and manage respiratory, cardiac, and trauma emergencies.

Source: United States Department of Labor www.bls.gov/oco/ocos101.htm

To learn more about EMTs, go to:

Visits to nearby medical facilities are most often for preventative and cautionary measures. Should a student become ill or sustain an injury  that is beyond the scope of care available in the field, we can relocate the student easily to a nearby clinic or hospital.

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State-of-the-Art Safety Equipment & Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles

operations and field guides review the mapOpen Sky spares no expense for ensuring our teams and personnel are outfitted with the latest, most effective equipment available to do their job. Our field guides and support personnel are each supplied with the following:

State of the Art Safety Equipment

  • A satellite or cell phone: Each team of guides carries a phone with extra batteries in order to communicate with support personnel, medical personnel, and clinical therapists at anytime from anywhere. All on-duty support personnel carry cell phones and/or satellite phones to be accessible 24 hours a day from any location.
  • 2-way handheld radios: Each team of guides has two handheld radios for communication among the guide team as well as coordinating with other teams and other support personnel that are in close proximity. All on-duty support personnel carry a hand-held radio and their vehicle is outfitted with an additional high-powered 2-way radio unit.
  • GPS unit: Each team of guides and all full-time support personnel have a portable Global Positioning System allowing for our guides and support personnel to know their whereabouts at all times.
  • Complete Map Set: Each team of guides and support vehicle is outfitted with the most up-to-date map resources available to ensure our guides and support personnel know the lay of the land at all times.

Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles

We maintain a complete fleet of four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles for transporting students or providing logistical support to our teams. Each Open Sky approved driver receives training and pre-approval prior to operating a vehicle. Our field support vehicles are equipped and maintained for off-road driving and include 2-way radios, GPS units, satellite phone, cell phone and map set.

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Incident Debrief, Review and Policy Revision

guides debriefing a risk management matterAfter each incident, a debrief session is conducted with a cross-section of Open Sky team members that are familiar with the incident or have a particular expertise that is valuable in discussing the particulars of the incident.  They gather to discuss each major aspect of the incident including the apparent causes, consequences, personnel judgment/decision making, and the sequence of events that preceded the incident.

After each debrief, the Open Sky leadership team reviews the policies, procedures, training and other systems or people factors that were in place during the incident to determine what changes might need to be made to reduce the probability of the incident occurring again in the future. As needed, changes are made in the policies, procedures, training, and/or personnel.

Our intention is to treat each incident as an opportunity to learn and improve the way in which we operate.

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Risk Management-Based Policies and Procedures

The Open Sky field manual, a collection of policies and procedures that guide judgment and decision-making for the field experience, directs all field guide and operations personnel decisions. The manual outlines the requirements, guidelines and best practices to ensure exceptional decision-making and sound judgment. The manual revisions are overseen by the Executive Director and the Open Sky leadership team and are reprinted as needed to reflect these changes. Each guide and support personnel carries the field manual with them while on-duty in the field for easy reference so as to ensure we are operating within our policies and procedures at all times.

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