Introduction to Field Safety

Unless you're going to restrict your recording efforts to roadsides and short walks on the well-marked paths of public parks, you have to consider safety and survival seriously.

But even if you only make short recording trips of a couple of hours close to home, you should always carry a minimal first-aid kit and a mobile phone. But for any round trip of even a mile or so, and any time you are unfamiliar with the location or the terrain, you will need to prepare in advance and carry suitable safety and survival gear. A small backpack or day rucksack will generally hold all the safety and survival gear you'll need, and if it's black it can be used as camouflage to help disguise your outline as well.

But there's a lot more to safety and survival than carrying an emergency pack. Your life and welfare are in your own hands, so you must plan and prepare.

Many survival practices used by the military and enthusiast survivalists are excessive or unsuitable for the field sound recordist. I can't see us trapping rabbits for dinner, for example, and very few wild animals you're likely to record will try to attack you unless you travel very far afield indeed. In reality, provided you've undertaken proper planning and reconnaissance, the only survival situations you're likely to encounter are being delayed in the open by a change in the weather such as fog or torrential rain or having an accident. In the first case, the first rule is sit it out, as moving without visibility or on potentially unstable ground can result in an accident. Arranging to stay warm and dry and staying strictly put are the imperatives in such situations.

In the second case, as well as staying warm and dry and applying first aid, you eventually need to attract the attention of rescuers. Here again the military have an advantage - they can do things like lighting fires and shooting off flares regardless of the consequences, whereas we civilians wouldn't get away with it. So you need alternatives. One of the most obvious, but surprisingly the least used, is to let local people know where you're going in advance and discuss an emergency plan of action with them.

If you're sure your mobile phone will work in the area, charge it fully before you set out and switch it off so the battery is unused. Obtain the phone number of a local person you can reliably contact in emergency and test it, preferably when you are near your destination. Pubs are useful here as they keep late hours without complaint. But don't rely on it as your sole arrangement.

In any case, and particularly if you can't trust your mobile phone, agree an itinerary. Tell someone exactly where you're going, preferably with a map reference and a specified route to the destination. Arrange that you will make personal contact by a given time if everything has gone well, and agree how long they should wait after that before alerting the emergency services if they haven't heard from you. Then stick strictly to the agreed plan. Having done that, check and carry your survival pack.