No matter how well planned a band trip may be, things can go wrong. So how do directors keep their students safe during potentially dangerous situations?
Heat exhaustion, a lost student, and personal injuries are all potential hazards of traveling with your marching band. Many groups find the rewards far outweigh the dangers—with proper preparation.
In the months and weeks leading up to a trip, band directors should take special care to mitigate all that may go wrong while traveling. “There’s a lot of pre-production work that goes on before a trip even begins, so that safety isn’t really an issue,” says Wayne Bliss, a professional musician and retired music educator in Tacoma, Washington.
Justin Eberly, an emergency medical technician (EMT) and emergency medical services (EMS) instructor, agrees, specifying that “the most important thing to have is the training.”
Numerous organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross, sponsor “lay responder” or “lay rescuer” First Aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and automated external defibrillator (AED) training that band staff and trip chaperones can complete. During these classes, participants learn the steps they should take to care for injured or sick individuals.
Integral in this preparation process are first aid kits. Larger groups should carry a backpack filled with enough bandages, gauze, pads, medications, and more to care for a substantial portion of the members. “Making sure you’re prepared and have an adequate stock of supplies is part of that preparation process and is just as important as training,” says Eberly, who is also a brass/visual staff member with the Cumberland Valley High School Marching Band in New Kingstown, Pennsylvania.
Regardless of where your band will be traveling, some places will be safer than others, and it’s imperative to establish which areas should be avoided. Large crowds in traditionally tourist-heavy areas frequented by bands present a problematic, yet often unavoidable, issue that should be considered when planning destinations. “Putting groups in situations where there’s going to be a large group of people is a potential for something to happen in this day and age,” says Dr. Brad McDavid, director of the University of Washington Husky Marching Band.
While in band attire, members are somewhat easy to spot, but what happens when you let students be tourists for a few hours? To those who have visited Disneyland on any given weekday, gaggles of school-aged students sporting matching T-shirts are probably a familiar sight. To Bliss, customized T-shirts are an effective way to easily identify students in crowds during times of emergency. Even better: “The kids think it’s kind of cool,” Bliss says.
Another good means to keep track of band members— particularly those in school-aged ensembles—is to split the participants into smaller, easier-to-monitor groups. “You want to make sure students are always assigned to a group; you don’t want any students alone, even if it’s in a safe environment,” Bliss says.
This way, if something were to happen, the other members of the group would be able to assist the endangered individual and, if the situation escalated, get hold of a supervisor.
Some ensembles, such as those run by McDavid, keep band members together at all times to limit oversight issues as much as possible. But if you do choose to gift your students with a bit more freedom and allow them to explore an area without adult supervision, have them regularly check in with a pre-designated chaperone, either in person or via telephone.
Furthermore, band members should be required to read and sign a behavioral contract before being approved to travel. In addition to reminding students of their behavioral expectations, signed contracts on file protect instructors. In the event that something goes wrong and a student needs to be penalized for their actions, directors can cite this document as proof that the student knowingly broke the rules.
Obtain Medical Consent
Because of the age of the participants, high school and middle school band trips present a unique set of challenges.
The most obvious difference is the explicit involvement of parents, who perhaps for the first time will not be present to watch over their child. “A band director is essentially a pseudo-parent or guardian in regards to the medical needs of students” if they are minors, Eberly says.
With minors, parents have rights in the medical decision-making process for their children, regardless of whether they’re on site at the time of the emergency or not. To prevent conflicts, directors of school-aged groups should outline the medical permissions with a form that parents must sign before children may travel.
In groups such as college bands and drum corps, some participants are considered legal adults who have their own medical rights not afforded to minors. For this reason, of-age participants should understand and acknowledge who will ultimately have the power to make medical decisions along with who will travel with them to medical facilities in the case of an emergency. “Designating that individual or those individuals that have that ability to make those decisions, making sure it’s communicated clearly from the get-go, so that there’s not an argument at the time of an emergency [is important],” Eberly says.
While it may be easier to protect the physical safety of your students, the mental health of participants also remains of paramount importance. Trips can be a stressful time, particularly to younger students who have not previously been separated from their families for extended periods. Directors and chaperones should keep a watchful eye on students’ behaviors, paying particular attention to depression or risky actions that may occur. If a student seems to be struggling, a quick phone call home may do the trick.
In the end, although traveling with minors may make trip planning more difficult, the payoff makes it worthwhile. “The purpose of a trip is to be educational and fun, but neither of those things can happen unless all procedures are in place, so that students are safe,” Bliss says. “Human beings want to know that they’re coming into a safe environment, so they can relax and have a fun learning experience.”
Know Before You Go
Traveling beyond the relative safety of the United States presents a unique set of problems that band directors must account for when planning trips.
To McDavid, who recently joined forces with Washington State University and the University of Oregon to take a combined group of band members to Ireland (see Noteworthy article), doing an in-person site inspection at least one year in advance of the actual trip is the most important way to prepare. “I want to see all of my options for hotels, restaurants, bus companies, and of course, the performance venues,” McDavid says. “Hiring companies that are going to fully understand what we, as directors, want is really important.”
The needs of each ensemble differ considerably, so working with a trustworthy travel agency that understands your program’s needs and is able to build safety precautions into the trip as required will make traveling go as smoothly as possible.
International trips may be an easy transition for students with prior experience traveling or people who, at the very least, grew up in a major metropolitan area. Yet to others, the very concept can be a daunting prospect. As such, no knowledge—no matter how basic it may seem—should be considered universally known. Directors should ensure that every student is aware of important information—even outwardly mundane knowledge, like how to catch a flight connection in a foreign country.
Try Tricks of the Trade
Traveling with ensembles is no new thing, and over the years directors in charge of trips have come up with numerous useful tricks to make things easier.
Because groups often travel in the hotter months of the year, dehydration and heat stroke can be a concern. To keep students out of the emergency room, programs should keep a significant amount of bottled water on hand.
Modern advances in technology have made trips less of a logistical nightmare than in prior years. Cell phones are perhaps the best resource available to directors to ensure the continued safety of all involved. To those uncomfortable with using personal cell numbers while traveling, the RemindMe app can help directors easily spread information to band members, according to Seth Murphy, program and staff coordinator for Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps.
Choosing chaperones who not only will be responsible and trustworthy but also have prior experience traveling—particularly to the area the band will be visiting—will provide a useful support system to a program’s senior leadership. A common problem that participants face while in the middle of a crisis is that they don’t know whom to call. For this reason, traveling groups should make sure to designate on-call adults at every hour of the day—whether it be 2 p.m. or 2 a.m.
Bands often spend a significant portion of their time traveling from place to place on charter buses, and while these buses attempt to stay safe, accidents happen. Directors should keep accurate rosters, and if necessary seating charts, in the dashboard area to account for all members as well as for potential use by emergency personnel. “That’s critical in the response because we need to know what resources need to be pulled to the scene,” Eberly says.
In the end, no trip will go off without a hitch.
“You can do everything you can to prepare, but eventually something will happen,” says Dr. Troy Bennefield, director of athletic bands for Washington State University. “In the end, it’s all about how you’re trained to react.”