Is this an emergency?' What is an emergency on a school expedition?
This thesis is an autoethnographic account of emergencies that occurred on expeditions I have led. The central question addressed in this thesis was: What is an emergency on a school expedition? The aim of the research was to better understand emergencies with a view to improving my own practice as an expedition leader and as a trainer of expedition staff, and with the aim of contributing to a discussion of best practice within the expedition community. There is a large and growing demand for school expeditions which spend extended periods in remote areas away from the familiar support infrastructure of school management, colleagues, parents, and a well-understood health service. An emergency on these expeditions is likely to be more demanding upon all concerned compared to a similar emergency in a familiar and non-remote setting. There is minimal existing literature concerning emergencies on school expeditions. The autoethnographic approach taken was both evocative and analytic. The evocative autoethnography comprises 28 immersive narratives of emergencies on school expeditions. These accounts include dealing with mental and physical health emergencies, responding to environmental hazards, and managing issues arising from people's actions. In the absence of an unequivocal set of criteria that would define exactly what is and what is not an emergency, emergencies were defined ostensively. The analytic autoethnography used Wittgenstein's ideas of concepts that can be categorised by their family resemblances, an emerging approach within social sciences. My research shows that emergencies are concepts with blurred boundaries that share what Wittgenstein calls “family likenesses”, i.e. most emergencies contain most of the following characteristics: unusual situations; limited duration; harm or the threat/possibility of harm; normal ways of working have suddenly become inappropriate; possibly novel or unforeseen situations; those caught up in an emergency may be emotionally affected. In addition, this study found that as well as describing a situation, saying “we are in an emergency” can also be a demand or permission for action: society can mandate actions in an emergency that are not allowed in “normal” times, for example you are not allowed to stop on a motorway except in an emergency. Emergency actions include: acting with urgency; doing things we would not normally do; changing the rules under which we operate; changing our plans; allocating extra people or resources to a task. Through analysis I identified four broad types of situation where one might need to take emergency action: a situation of heightened risk; avoiding a hazard; the immediate impact of harm being done; recovery after the hazard has passed. The thesis concludes with recommendations for practice on school expeditions. One key recommendation is that those involved at all levels with school expeditions be prepared to take emergency action during a time of what I have termed a “maybe-emergency”: if we wait until we are certain it actually is an emergency, it might be too late to prevent harm. The thesis also includes suggestions for further research.