Any parent can testify that children can get out of sight within moments whether at home in a developed neighborhood, out at grandma’s house in the woods, or while hiking and camping in one of the Ozark’s many parks.
In April a four-year-old boy in Saline County wandered out of his family’s yard with their Labrador. He was missing for several hours, but was found safe along with the dog, about 500 yards away from the home.
Throughout the year, Jeana Williams, coordinator of the Van Buren County Office of Emergency Management, gives presentations at schools and during the Van Buren County Fair. One of her presentations includes STOP (Stay, Think, Observe, Plan), an acronym for the steps children, and adults, need to remember if they get lost.
The letter “S” is for stay where you are as soon as you think you’re lost. The letter “T” is for think, stay calm, and what you can do to stay safe until help arrives. The letter “O” is for observe. Look around where you are and inventory what you have that will help you keep safe. The letter “P” is for plan. Plan on staying where you are, eating or drinking only when you are really hungry or thirsty, and building a lean-to for shelter from the elements and animals.
Ideally, children and adults alike should carry a backpack with them when they’re hiking and camping equipped with basics such as water, extra food, toilet paper, flashlight with batteries, and a blanket. Parents can decide if children are responsible enough to carry matches and multi-use tools in their pack. Attaching a whistle to the zipper of the backpack can be vital for signaling for help if someone gets lost.
Practicing and talking about these skills with children at home can help them remember what to do if they get lost. Such as building a lean-to with tree branches, making a campfire, finding shelter under a rock overhang, looking for clean water, spelling out a large “HELP” or “SOS” signal with rocks that can be seen from the air, and signaling with shiny objects.
Lost children are a parents’ worst nightmare and when the call goes out, the clock starts ticking.
Besides being part of the hands-on response during times of crisis, Williams spends much of time getting first responders throughout the county resources they need to take care of the community during emergencies, including searches and rescues.
Since 2008, she has helped Van Buren County communities more than $700,000 in grant funding. There’s a lot of paperwork with a lot of requirements: such as making sure volunteers are properly credentialed, submitting plans and contingency plans, and maintaining equipment inventories. She processed five years of documentation to get the right type of radios for first-responders throughout the county; radios that are vital during search and rescue operations.
Another vital thing the Van Buren County first-responders needs is community volunteers. Williams coordinates four emergency exercises throughout the year with municipalities throughout the county. Some are tabletop exercises where participants discuss the responses to various emergency situations, but most are full scale drills covering natural and manmade disasters, everything from power outages to chemical spills to search and rescue operations.
“There’s a saying in the first-responder community; we can’t save them all but we’re going to try,” Williams said.
Even talking with children about survival skills when watching television can be helpful.
Consider Autumn Veatch.
In 2015, Veatch was flying with relatives from Montana to Washington in a small airplane, a Beechcraft A35. The plane crashed and Veatch survived two days in the wilderness.
In an April 2016 article in Outdoor Life magazine author Natalie Krebs wrote, “Veatch recalled the survival shows she had watched with her dad in grade school—shows like Man vs. Wild and Dual Survival. The two main principles she remembered were to travel downhill and follow water. Listening intently, Veatch thought she heard the faint sound of a freeway. It turned out to be running water.”