Since 1962 over 650,000 students have participated in Outward Bound programs in cities, mountains, deserts, rivers, and oceans across the United States. Over the years, and throughout a wide variety of activities, Outward Bound has worked diligently to achieve and maintain an excellent safety record.
Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS) programs take place in both urban and backcountry environments, which present different types of hazards. Backcountry courses take place in remote wilderness settings that can be hours away from emergency medical care. Urban programs are run in more familiar surroundings with more timely emergency response but with risks unique to that environment.
Here at POBS, we are proud of our excellent safety record and continuously review and refine our safety policies and practices to maintain that record. While it is important to recognize that there are real risks associated with participating in outdoor activities, learning to manage those risks is also a part of every course. Each student is expected to play a role in their own safety by adhering to the rules, policies, and procedures set up by the instructors and staff members while at Philadelphia Outward Bound School.
Our risk management efforts include: annual program safety reviews, triennial safety audits, stringent staff qualifications, and the development of comprehensive program and emergency response plans. Even with these measures, risk of serious injury, property damage and death cannot be eliminated. While we cannot completely eliminate these risks, our focus on risk management allows participants to face challenges, to travel into remote areas and to meet success.
Outward Bound believes that the educative value of being outdoors justifies accepting some level of inherent risk. Risks are not sought for their own sake, and risks inherent in wilderness travel are approached thoughtfully and deliberately. Many risks, such as falling tree branches, tripping or slipping, and vector-borne diseases (diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) can be minimized but, even with the greatest attention to detail, cannot be eliminated. All students sign a liability waiver that outlines many such risks, acknowledging that they understand and accept the risks.
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POBS instructors are accomplished outdoor educators with extensive experience and training in technical and facilitation skills. They are specifically trained to identify, assess, and approach risk as a learning tool, to be managed but not eliminated. They anticipate and teach the management of the risks inherent in travel in remote areas. The intent is not to avoid activities involving risk but to recognize, prepare for, and successfully manage that risk. Risk, along with challenge, is part of the learning environment in which students develop skills, attention to detail, physical fitness, and leadership.
In addition to meeting state and federal requirements and background checks for their positions, all field instructors are certified Wilderness First Responders; some are Wilderness Emergency Medical Technicians, or equivalent. For more information about instructor skills and qualifications, please visit: WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN OUTWARD BOUND INSTRUCTOR
Our supervision policies are based on our belief that well-trained and educated teenagers and adults alike make good decisions with or without direct instructor supervision. Outward Bound maintains high staff-to-student ratios (approximately 1:6), and from the beginning of the course, instructors will teach the skills necessary for safe wilderness living and travel. There will also be times when students are not directly supervised, such as when cooking, setting up tarps, camping, sleeping and solo. At such times, the instructors will be nearby and the students will be able to ask questions or get help if needed. For the majority of the course, students will be with their instructors but the instructors often do not sleep in the same shelters with them, and they do not monitor them constantly.
As part of our ceaseless effort to monitor and improve safety, POBS programs are regularly reviewed by outdoor professionals from inside and outside the Outward Bound USA Safety Department in order to identify potential hazards and update best practices, as well as areas of commendation. Outward Bound has been a leader in wilderness safety and risk management for 50 years and is a co-sponsor of the annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC). This national conference convenes outdoor industry leaders to learn and collaborate, to advancing safety and risk management in the outdoor education and wilderness adventure community.