Prepare Kids for the Possibility of Being Lost in the Woods

Summer vacation season has arrived, and families will be rushing to destinations across the country, from the hustle of major amusement parks to the serenity of the great outdoors.

While on vacation, many children will be lost for some period of time. Most of these incidents don't escalate into anything as dramatic as the recent case of Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old who got lost at a Boy Scout camping event. The massive search ended happily, with Brennan found alive and in good condition after spending four nights alone in the Utah mountains.

But parents might want to look at the lessons learned from the case of a lost boy who met a tragic end back in 1981.

Albert "Ab" Taylor, a professional tracker for the Border Patrol, was one of those called to find 9-year-old Jimmy Beveridge, who went missing on a family camping trip near San Diego. After four long days of searching, volunteers found Jimmy's body. He had succumbed to hypothermia.

Although he had been involved in many searches for lost children, this was the first search Taylor had been a part of that failed to find the child alive. This failure sparked Taylor to develop a program that could help lost kids.

Taylor and his colleagues developed the Hug-A-Tree program, designed to present children with a short, simple list of things they should do and items they should use to stay safe and help rescuers find them quickly.

If you would like more information about the Hug-A-Tree program, Click Here.

The 30-minute, scripted presentation is designed to be presented by an adult, usually either a volunteer or professional in an emergency service such as a firefighter, police officer or search and rescue team member. The original presentation (an upgraded version is now in the works) includes about 100 slides and audiotapes that demonstrate the sounds a lost child might hear at night -- from the call of an owl to what a searcher's voice might sound like when calling a child's name.

All these elements are aimed at introducing children to a serious topic while at the same time reducing their fear of the unknown. The program primarily targets children between the ages of 5 and 12, although Don Cooper, Hug-a-Tree committee chair at the National Association for Search and Rescue, said all children can benefit from the information.

The lessons of Hug-A-Tree are easily remembered by a child. If you are lost, stop and stay near an immovable object -- for example, a tree. Always carry a whistle and a garbage bag, which can fit in a pocket. Once you've stopped, blow the whistle in series of three blasts every few minutes, and if you are cold or it is raining, make a hole for your face to peek through the side of the garbage bag and wear it like a poncho.

Doug Ritter, the publisher and editor of equipped.org, a Web site dedicated to a wide range of emergency preparedness issues, is a believer in the program.

"I think you'll see a resurgence in Hug-a-Tree, because I think it's absolutely, positively the best thing in the world for kids and survival in the wilderness. It is so effective at getting the message across to children to stay put and to be a participant in their rescue, not work counterproductively, as we saw in this [Brennan Hawkins] case. Again, it all worked out in the end, but it wouldn't have taken but a single change in one of these variables of weather and temperature and all the rest of this for this to have turned out tragically."

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