Hug-A-Tree and Survive

The Hug-A-Tree and Survive program was started in San Diego California after a group of Search and Rescue volunteers searched for a nine year old boy who died in the local mountains. The group put together an assembly program for children on how not to get lost, how to stay comfortable if they get lost, and how to be spotted and found. It is the sincere hope of every Search and Rescue organization that your children never need this knowledge, but if you discuss this the following information with your child, it may help them to remember one or more facts that will make the search short and successful.

ALWAYS CARRY A TRASH BAG AND A WHISTLE on a picnic, hike or camping trip. By making a hole in the bag for the face, and putting it over the head, it will keep the child dry and warm. The whistle will carry further than the child's voice and takes less energy to use.

HUG A TREE once you know you are lost. One of the greatest fears a person of any age can have is of being alone. Hugging a tree and even talking to it calms the child down and prevents panic. By staying in one place the child is found far more quickly and can't be injured in a fall.

MY PARENTS WON'T BE ANGRY AT ME. Time and again children have avoided searchers because they were ashamed of getting lost and afraid of punishment. Anyone can get lost, adult or child. If they know a happy reunion filled with love is awaiting, they will be less frightened, less prone to panic and work hard to be found. (Special note to parents: Consider carefully your emotions both during and after a search; your child wants to be found and anger is not going to help either yourself or the child once found.)

MAKE YOURSELF BIG. From the air, people are hard to see when they are standing in a group of trees or wearing dark and drab clothing -- especially children. Find and hug a tree near a small clearing if possible. Wear a red or orange jacket when you go near the woods or desert. Lie down when the helicopter flies over. If it is cool and you are rested, make crosses or "SOS" in broken shrubbery, rocks or by dragging your foot in the dirt.

THERE ARE NO ANIMALS OUT THERE THAT CAN HURT YOU IN THIS COUNTRY. If you hear a noise at night, yell at it. If it is an animal it will run away. If it is a searcher, you are found. Fears of the dark and of "Lions and tigers and bears" are a big factor in panicking children into running. They need strong reassurance to stay put and be safe.

YOU HAVE 200 FRIENDS LOOKING FOR YOU. We have had children in the area of a search tell us, "My parents would never spend the money to search for me with all these people." Search personnel are professionals and volunteers who charge nothing and do it because they care. Many children who are lost don't realize that if they sit down and stay put, one of a few hundred people will find them. Some are afraid of strangers, or men in uniform, and don't respond to yells, and have actually hidden from searchers they knew were looking for them.

is a five minute exercise that cuts down the time of a search by several hours. Have your child step on a piece of aluminum foil on a soft surface such as carpeting or a folded towel. Mark the foil with the child's name and keep it safe. With this print, searchers can seperate your child's track from the hundreds of others in the area, and quickly determine the direction of travel. (Special Note to Parents: Repeat this process whenever you purchase a new pair of shoes or sneakers for the child).

Additional Information

Try to keep from getting lost in the first place. Children are easily distracted off the trail so teach them to stay on the trail. Never let your child walk the trails alone. Pick out a high landmark such as a prominent hill, or note the direction of the sun; this prevents disorientation.

Admit it to yourself when you become lost. It can and does happen to anyone, yet is a source of shame when it happens. When you become lost, admit it, accept it, and take actions to be comfortable and in the area when the searchers arrive. Use your head - it's the best survival tool you have.

Call the Sheriff quickly if your child is lost. The search area expands so quickly due to the lost person's possible movements that rapid response is critically important. A call to the sheriff which is cancelled gives the searchers practice and helps keep them alert. A slow response is dangerous, especially if bad weather wipes out the track and exposure is a consideration.

Be available for interviewing. Clues which lead to finding the child in good shape usually come from family and friends who remain on the scene and talk openly and accurately with the search leader or his/her representative. Any personal information will be kept confidential.

The Davis County Sheriff's Search & Rescue has several volunteers trained to give the Hug-A-Tree presentation. Contact us at to arrange a presentation for your group. Ask your local school to allow them to present it to the school in assembly. Isn't the life of a child worth it?

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