Nobody ever expects to get lost, but it happens, and when a child is involved the situation can be even more dire because youngsters often lack basic survival skills. However, this weekend, a "Lost in the Woods" program will be taught in Soldotna in an effort to educate children on what to do should they ever become separated from family or friends in the forest.
"This program could really save a life," said Dale Lawyer of Central Emergency Services and the instructor for the course, who will be there with Ares, the CES search and rescue dog.
The hour-long program will be at the Peninsula Dog Obedience Group's facility on Kalifornsky Beach Road on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The program is free, but limited to 30 children, from first through seventh grade.
Lawyer said the program will be presented in a way in which children can understand, and Ares will be there to demonstrate some of the key concepts.
"The premise is to keep the kids safe if they get lost," Laywer said. "Ares comes so they can see what he does and what's easier for him, such as sitting still to build up scent in one place."
Staying in one place, rather than wandering, is one of the most important points to remember when lost. Another reason for not wandering is people looking for a lost child move very slowly while searching for clues, so if a youngster runs around while lost, the searchers may not be able to catch up.
Falling or getting hurt while traveling is another possibility, and being lost and hurt could increase the possibility of tragedy.
Lawyer said he will go over this on Saturday as part of the nine "Rules for Survival."
"We also tell kids to stay together if lost," he said.
Lawyer explained lost children are taught not to separate from a friend or pet, and the reason for this rule is to conserve body heat. Curling up with a large dog or friend helps keep kids warm and it gives them companionship until found.
"Keeping warm is a big one," Lawyer said.
This means children also should keep warm with the clothes they are wearing by covering up all their exposed skin by rolling sleeves down, or, if wearing a sweater or jacket, by zipping it up.
"The most important part of your clothing is a hat, or something that covers your head," Lawyer said. "Over 70 percent of all your body heat escapes through your head, so we emphasize to the kids to keep your lid on."
Lawyer said children are also taught to find a cozy waiting place. This means a warm place out of the wind and rain, but not where searchers could miss seeing them.
"Under a large tree is a good place," he said.
Children are also encouraged to look "larger" for searchers. This is done by selecting a waiting place near an open space. Then, when a child hears someone coming, they can move to the middle of the clearing and call. And, if it's an aircraft they hear, children are taught to lie down and wave their arms and legs, as if making a snow angel.
"We teach them not to lie on the bare ground," Lawyer said.
He said the only exception to this rule is when attempting to attract attention; otherwise being in direct contact with the ground for any length of time is dangerous.
"The cold ground can rob precious body heat from you," he said. "So kids are taught to build a mattress out of brush boughs or other available materials."
Putting out something bright is also emphasized to the children, such as making a flag using whatever they have on them, such as a map or paper. They can also spell the words "HELP" or "SOS" on the ground using rocks and sticks, or make a large arrow with them, pointing to where they are.
A hard part for lost children is when they become hungry or thirsty, and Lawyer said there are rules for dealing with this too. Children are taught to never eat any berries, mushrooms or anything else they aren't 100 percent sure what it is. Drinking water is a must to survival, but kids are told to be careful where they get it. They should drink from a water supply that they cannot fall in, rather than attempting to go near a large river or lake.
In addition to the rules of survival, children will also be taught how to make a survival kit on Saturday.
"We do this in class and show the kids how to use the items," Lawyer said.
This kit include: a resealable sandwich bag for the container, which can also be used for storing drinking water; a snack of high energy trail mix in its own bag; a whistle used for calling for help; a signal flag cut from an orange plastic garbage bag; a signal mirror made of cardboard and tinfoil; and a large, bright-colored garbage bag, which can be used as poncho.
"For older children there is also the possibility of including tinder and matches," Lawyer said.
After the essentials are covered, Laywer said the kids watch a 20-minute video that shows a boy who goes out and gets lost in the woods, to further illustrate the key concepts.
"We discuss what he did right and what he did wrong," he said. "We talk about your feelings once lost in the woods and what to do."
Lawyer said discussing feelings with children is necessary because youngsters have fears that can be more intense than those of an adult. As such, it is very important for them to know how to deal with their fears in an emergency situation.
Children are taught to keep calm by singing, whistling or even telling themselves jokes or stories. If they hear a noise in the woods, they are taught to make a noise back, since if it is an animal it will likely run away, and if it is a searcher then they will be found.
Children should also know up front that there is no punishment for being lost, since some children have been known to hide or run away from searchers in fear of punishment.
Lawyer said these principles, along with Ares' training and abilities, could make the different between life or death should a child be lost.
"Any search and rescue is an emergency, so you want to get out there as fast as you can," he said. "Ares is the only search and rescue dog on the peninsula, and he can quickly give you a direction and a targeted search, whether its on a child, an Alzheimer's patient, whoever. He can search for up to 26 hours if necessary."
To learn more about this event, or to register for it, call the Peninsula Dog Obedience Group at 262-6846 or visit their Meetup site calendar at: http://www.meetup.com/The-PenDOG-Meetup-Group/calendar/.
A child's basic emergency should include:
* a resealable sandwich bag for the container, which can also be used for storing drinking water;
* a snack of high energy trail mix in its own bag;
* a whistle used for calling for help; a signal flag cut from an orange plastic garbage bag;
* a signal mirror made of cardboard and tinfoil; and
* a large, bright-colored garbage bag, which can be used as poncho.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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