The letter below was published in the Scottish Mountaineer and made me think again about Stats and there use in Mountain Rescue.
I would appreciate any comments.
For many years the Scottish Mountaineering Club annually published a lengthy list of brief Accident Reports. These reports simply detailed the date and location of each mountain accident, gave the ages and gender of those involved, said how many man-hours were involved for the relevant mountain rescue team and finally said how the incident was resolved. No names were published. To give two examples:
‘February 24 – Ben Nevis (near CIC Hut). A lone walker was walking in the area of the CIC Hut
when an avalanche carried him about a hundred metres. He suffered limb injuries and was
carried first by stretcher then airlifted to Hospital in Fort William. Glencoe MRT, R177 (the helicopter).
‘January 2 – Signal Point, nr Clachaig Inn (NN122566). A female walker (62yrs) slipped and fractured her
ankle. The team carried her out to a waiting ambulance. Glencoe MRT. 13 hrs.’
Much to the regret of SMC members and the wider Scottish mountaineering community, since 2012 the SMC Journal has not been sent these most valuable reports. Through a fog of obfuscation we seem to have learned that Police Scotland (or at any rate someone in your organisation) has decided that these reports cannot be published because, so it seems, it is thought that the reports contravene the provisions of the Data Protection Act. This seems to be a sad mistake. So far as we can see, the reports barely breach the Act at all: no names are published and if it was felt that publishing either the gender or the age of the victim might allow identification this could easily be avoided. One would simply say “Two people…two climbers…two individuals…etc.” I believe that the present sorry situation rests on a simple misunderstanding of what the reports need involve. All that needs to be retained is the place, the time of year, the cause of the accident and the number of hours which the rescue team had to put in to resolve the situation. My Deputy Editor stands ready to alter any reports received so that no names, ages or genders are mentioned.
Little accident reports like this are most helpful to hillwalkers and climbers. They identify accident blackspots; they put flesh and bones on mere statistics; they are a vivid and engaging historical record of what went wrong for some individuals in Scotland’s mountains and a humble memorial of all the time and effort which needs to be put in by the rescue services to put things right (if they can be put right). If you have read of accidents taking place because of unstable snow conditions in Coire na Tulaich on the Buachaille in Glencoe you might think twice before descending that way in a thaw. Not publishing these reports because of some ill-informed fears about “confidentiality” is a mistake, and, in the view of those who understand Scottish mountaineering, actually compromises safety.
I do not know who it is who is obstructing the publication of these reports. I am not even a hundred percent certain that it is someone in Police Scotland, but if it is (as I am lead to believe) I do wish that he or she would consider carefully what I have said and enter into a meaningful dialogue about the issue. I am quite confident that with a little goodwill and commonsense the matter could easily be resolved.
This is my article a few years ago
I have decided to write about something that few people will be aware of and
their relevance to Mountain Safety and nowadays to Mountain Rescue Funding. I
have been fortunate as for many years I was involved in meeting two of the main
protagonist of the Scottish Mountain Rescue Stats Ben Humble and John Hinde.
They compiled the Stats for the Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee; Ben was a
renowned mountaineer and had a great interest in mountain safety. When Ben
died he left a great legacy through the Scottish Mountaineering Club Annual
Journal where the Stats were put in since the early 40’s. Ben wrote and worked
tirelessly and his article “A survey of Mountain Accidents In Scotland 1925 – 45″
was a breakthrough at the time. After this Ben compiled a yearly listing of
Mountain Accidents in the Journals. It was when Ben passed away John Hinde
took over and did another outstanding job for many years; they left a unique
history and so much information for future generations especially in the aspects
of Mountain safety.
Nowadays Mountain Rescue Teams are extremely busy and after a call out the
last thing they need is to afterwards is to compile the call –out report. Yet they
are so important especially nowadays. I took over the Statistician job for several
years and had various problems keeping up with the reports. There were in these
days 400 call –outs many involving several teams. The paperwork involved was
very hard work and at times it was a constant battle to keep up to date. It
became nearly a full time job and kept me very busy in any spare time I had.
I did a talk a few years when I was the Scottish Mountain Rescue Statistician it
was to try to get the teams to realise how important they are. None of us like
paperwork but it is so essential especially when trying to raise funding from
Government Sources. I found this out the hard way in the late 80’s when they
were going to cut the RAF Teams or even get rid of them. It was a real panic but I
was the only Team with a history going back to 1944 and could prove to the
“Bean Counters” that 10% of our incidents were for military aircraft and military
personnel. That Bean Counter was put back in his box for a few more years. It
was also very relevant in the early days of trying for funding from the Scottish
Government when I was Chairman of Scottish Mountain Rescue. We had to
explain to the First Minister that Teams put in a huge amount of hours in on
training, courses and looking after equipment apart from attending incidents.
These are a few points from my talk!
The information gained from a few years incidents can be so helpful to teams. It
can help show the areas in which Team Training should go. If your Team mainly
does Lowland Urban searches should you spend do much time and money on
expensive equipment on Technical gear? Maybe look more into Search planning
and training? Or if you carry out a lot searches in areas of swift water should the
training be increased in this area? Agree fully on this one. A rich profile of what a
team does and where it does it can help inform not only training (what and
where) but also what kinds of equipment to purchase. It’s all about matching
what the team does in theory to what it actually does in practice. I suspect that
in many cases this is not the case.
Also, an accurate and up-to-date picture about what happens across Scotland
can help advise the Press, Government and safety organisations such as the
MCofS on what aspects to focus on, and also avoid these organisations passing on year after year inaccurate myths (e.g. all mountaineers are ill equipped and
Inexperienced numpties hell bent on jumping off cliffs!)
Team areas will have accident hot spots that are current today it may be
worth having a look back and see if any changes are relevant? Casualties
do get found in areas that were hot spots in the past. At times many of the
current team may have limited knowledge of this historical fact as elder
Team member’s leave and their knowledge could be lost forever? Agree
fully. A recent Professor of IT is quoted as saying “ “The experiences of our
past are still the best road map to our future”. You are correct that hot
spots of the past disappear and new ones appear. Its only we you carry out
an objective analysis that trends like this appear. This can help a present
team to find out more about the new hot spots (where are they, how do you
gain access, what are the technical challenges, and so on). Far better to be
Pre-warned than be caught out on a rescue!
Medical – Look at the injuries your team deals with make priorities in these areas that are
you need to. If you deal with 80% ankle lower limbs make sure all can treat and
the equipment is suitable. How many stretcher carries do you do how often do
you practice? It is easy to get side tracked? Fully agree. No point in spending
£1000s on fancy kit to deal with a broken femur when your team has never ever
had such an injury! Also, if a team mainly deals with searches with no injured
people then why train numerous members to become EMTs etc, when the money
and time would be better spent on training up people to become better at
searching and search management.
Funding – The government are interested in Stats – man/ women hours so important. What
about the hours on training and sorting gear and exercises they are never
submitted in the figures only call out hours. What about travel to and from a call out,
sorting out gear, standby hours etc. “Bean Counters” only want numbers but
that is how it works . It is really worth working out how many hours the team
spends training/ courses and kit maintenance? It will amaze you! When you add
up all the hours carried out by every team across a full year it sums to around
40,000 hours (give or take). This translates into many, many full time police
Officers, which goes to show not only what a comprehensive job we do, but also
and how much money is saved to the public purse.
Safety/Research – The common causes of accidents in your area maybe worth alerting climbers and walkers to current trends in your area. Is safety not a Mountain Rescue Concern?
The SMR/MRS is the organisation in the BEST POSSIBLE position to advise
everyone – Press, Government, Course Providers, Governing bodies, etc, what
goes wrong. It has a moral obligation to publish its annual statistics far and wide
and in a timely manner – not two years late! Also, as a government funded
Organisation, should it have a legal responsibility to do this too? Some of he recent accidents on Ben Nevis (winter 2015) have been in the same area and involve walkers ? Why is this trend happening?
Historical – So many casualties will come back many years later to find out what happened
to them or a loved one. It is good to have some back ground on the incident and
what happened. Many things re –occur on a regular cycle. You and I can recount
numerous instances where family members have come back to us for
information about someone in the family who died (a grid reference, more detail,
who assisted etc.) and SMR has a moral responsibility to help these people by
providing relevant information.
Stats are so important –
The world has changed nowadays with the Data Protection Act and personal
privacy, with new regulations to ensure that this is adhered to. We do not need to
name any casualties but age and other factors are very relevant. With one Police
Force I was assured that we would have current and accurate stats that we can
use for the next generations to learn from, I wonder how far we are from this now
the Single Police force is up and running. I feel we owe it to John Hinde, Ben
Humble and all the other Statistics Officers who maintained and published
accurate and up-to-date records to tackle this problem before it is too late.
Is it only me that sees this as a problem?
Any comments welcome?
Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) is very open about what it does and you can download annual figures from as far back as 1980 right through to 2013.
Irish MR is not quite as up to date but still open about publishing its annual stats. Go to –
Do we seem to be lagging behind?
Thanks to Bob Sharp for his input and Ben Humble and John Hinde for the inspiration!
Past Comments – A comment 0f Congratulations on a very forceful and heartfelt defence of management information in mountain rescue.
All the points you make are valid, both north and south of the border as well as across the Irish Sea. For the last two decades I have been trying to instil these same points into the English and Welsh MRTs. I believe progress has been made but I am still not satisfied that the MREW figures are complete. For what it is worth, my sympathy goes out to all the statisticians who have followed John Hinde; not only a difficult act to follow but one made harder by poor co-operation from teams.
The production of management information is vital for the development of mountain safety and rescue. This point is well-made by Heavy. All the aspects covered by the article are essential if mountain rescue is to develop in a way that reflects changes in society. Without this steady flow of information, it is likely that lessons will be overlooked, will not be learned or quickly be forgotten.
Please consider publishing your article further afield. It might even blow some of the blinkers away.
Statistics Officer – Mountain Rescue (England & Wales)