For most people summer means family vacations, camping trips, hiking and picnicking. Most of these outings are meant to be fun, but sometimes they end in tragedy because someone gets lost.
To prevent this from happening in Utah County, Valley Ambulance is teaching children to "hug a tree and survive."Steve Hawks, community relations director of Valley Ambulance, was on hand at Westridge Elementary Tuesday to teach the school's first- to sixth-grade students principles from the Hug-A-Tree and Survive program.
Hawks, a member of the National Search and Rescue Team, was certified as a Hug-A-Tree presenter last month and since that time has introduced the program to three schools in the area.
Hug-A-Tree and Survive is designed to educate children ages 5 to 12 in basic wilderness survival techniques with two goals in mind: to prevent them from becoming lost and to teach them survival techniques in the event that they become lost.
The program gets its name from its survival technique - if a person becomes lost, to hug a tree to survive.
Hug-A-Tree was founded in 1981 by a group of people from the San Diego area after a large rescue party unsuccessfully searched for a 9-year-old boy in the nearby mountains. He died because he panicked and ran.
By holding onto a tree, lost children remain stationary, and the searching distance is reduced. A tree can also be a friend, Hawks said. Hugging a tree and talking to it calms a child and prevents panic.
The program also teaches children to carry a trash bag - with a hole cut out for the face - for protection and warmth without suffocating and a whistle because it carries farther than a voice and takes less energy to use.
Children are taught to remember that their parents won't be angry when they are found. Search and rescue teams found that many times lost children avoided them because they were embarrassed to be lost and afraid of what would happen after they were found.
Making themselves big is another technique children learn to survive. Children are told to hug a tree near a small clearing if possible. This makes it easier to be spotted by a helicopter or by searchers. By wearing bright clothing, making large crosses or SOS signs in the dirt or by writing other large messages in the ground, children become big.
Telling the children that no animals are out there that can hurt them is also important because fears of the dark and noises are a big factor in panicking children into running, Hawks said.
Another way to cut down on the search time is to footprint children before they go hiking by having them step on a piece of aluminum foil. This allows trackers to separate a child's track from the others in the area.
Hug-A-Tree lets children know that if they become lost they have hundreds of friends looking for them. The National Search and Rescue team members are professionals who volunteer their time to finding missing persons.
"Hopefully we'll have some success stories as a result of the program," Hawks said. Children may not remember to carry a whistle, trash bag or leave footprints, but "I think the principles stick with them."
Hug-A-Tree and Survive is a non-profit organization. As part of its community education presentations, Valley Ambulance presents the program through a slide show and role-playing activities with children.