Responses to law-enforcement, fire-control, and search-and-rescue emergencies are the responsibility of local, state, and federal public agencies. CDTC has no legal responsibility nor authority to respond to emergencies. However, CDTC plays a critical role in educating trail visitors, agency partners, and the general public about the CDT and in helping prevent emergencies from occurring in the first place. As on the ground resources, CDTC and its volunteers and partners, will maintain contingency plans, be ready to assist the appropriate agency in responding to law enforcement, fire, and search-and-rescue episodes, and act as an early warning system to prevent or mitigate emergency situations. When authorized by agency officials, CDTC may be asked to support events and emergency response situations, and CDTC may or may not choose to support these activities.
For all incidents and emergencies, it is CDTC’s policy to first encourage travelers and community members to contact 911 and local authorities. Local law enforcement and land management agencies, not CDTC, have the jurisdiction and authority to respond to incidents, criminal incidents, and emergencies. Encouraging individuals to contact the relevant authority is the first step for the implementation of any CDTC response to incidents or emergencies.
A.) Context and Definitions
Contingency Planning for Emergencies: Law enforcement, fire- control and search-and-rescue jurisdictions should be contacted to establish and maintain effective relationships with affected emergency response agencies. This is best conducted prior to the need for any such response. This should include provision of maps of CDT location, sharing phone-contact lists for emergencies and suggested annual meetings to reinforce relationships (ideally in the winter / off season). CDTC will maintain up-to-date agency contact lists and conduct annual updates to ensure information is kept current. In addition, CDTC will develop clear communication processes to help ensure clear and consistent communication is maintained during incidents along the CDT.
Responsibilities and Disclaimers:
A top priority for the CDTC is the safety of trail users. In this vein, it is CDTC’s intention to communicate best practices for preparation, safety, and any other useful tools to make the most of the CDT experience. CDTC will strive to provide relevant information in regards to ongoing incidents or emergencies as it is collected, but the amount and type of data collected depends widely on the contributions of trail users and community members on the ground to keep us informed.
CDTC is not law enforcement or a land management agency, and thus does not have the capacity, resources, or jurisdiction to ensure trail users are aware of every risk that may be on trail. CDTC will do its due diligence to warn CDT visitors of possible dangers or criminal risk, but it is ultimately the duty of law enforcement, search and rescue teams, and land management agencies to coordinate these efforts in their respective jurisdictions, and the responsibility of trail travelers to prepare for their time on the trail by staying informed on the most recently reported trail AND community conditions in the area the user plans to travel. In the event of an incident or emergency, authorized law-enforcement agencies have the primary responsibility and authority for responding to and prosecuting crimes that occur on the CDT or directly affect its visitors. CDTC will cooperate as requested in facilitating responses, but assumes no legal responsibility. While CDTC strives to keep CDT travelers and community as informed as possible, due to CDTC’s role as a facilitating entity with no authority or jurisdiction, the CDTC does not have any legal responsibility to warn CDT visitors of any specific criminal, environmental, health, or other risk on the CDT.
Incident Reporting: CDTC will act as a central repository of incidents to CDT Visitors security, law-enforcement violations, fires, and search and rescue. CDTC has developed an Incident Report Form (IRF) and guidelines that anyone in the CDT community is encouraged to use. Land managers, local law enforcement, gateway community members, outfitters, business members, trail travelers, recreationists, and any other person that experiences the trail or comes into contact with people traveling on the trail, are encouraged to utilize the IRF in the event that one of the types of incidents described below occurs.
The IRF is completed for incidents and emergencies reported to CDTC in order to maintain a consistent record of information for relevant agencies with jurisdiction and to track developing trends related to incidents over the entirety of the trail. The information contained in the IRF includes identifying information of the reporting individual, the type of incident, the status of the incident, the circumstances and context of the incident including individuals involved, as well as identifying information that can be used in the instance that a missing person is the focus of the report. The main purpose of the IRF is to ensure the CDTC has a reliable, detailed mode of recording information pertaining to incidents and emergencies in order to efficiently and effectively cooperate with the land manager or law enforcement agency with relevant jurisdiction. Once recorded in the IRF, the status of the report and CDTC’s engagement will remain active, in line with a plan of action determined by the relevant agency. Once an incident or emergency is resolved, the IRF will be archived in CDTC’s records and details of the incidents will be added to aggregate data in order to track trends and identify proactive strategies to improve the CDT experience.
CDTC includes personal safety tips for all CDT visitors in its CDT Planning Guide and in on-line resources. CDTC will provide up-to-date information regarding emergency contacts and processes for responding to emergency situations in its publications and online resources. When requested by law enforcement, CDTC will provide up to date trail data and on the ground knowledge to assist the response to emergencies, including ensuring federal and state law enforcement are in communication with one another. CDTC will serve as a vehicle for family members of verified missing persons to help disperse information but will not be responsible for production of information resources. Appropriate review and revision will be made to all CDTC publications and information resources as they are published and as needed.
Information for CDT Visitors on reporting incidents and the Incident Report Form are on the CDTC web site, and a simplified form is included in the CDT Planning Guide. CDTC will distribute reports of incidents that are reported to have occurred along the CDT to local partners and land management agencies. These reports may be mailed or emailed to CDTC Central office in Golden, CO or via email@example.com.
Considerations for planning:
Inventory: CDTC will maintain a current list of emergency contacts that includes the addresses and phone numbers of federal, state and local officials responsible for responding to emergencies. It is also recommended to provide a map of where varying jurisdictions overlap. The inventory should be as comprehensive as possible and must be kept up to date to be effective in an emergency situation.
Action Plan: An action plan will be developed and include a current inventory of emergency-response personnel and specific guidance on procedures to be followed in responding to different categories of emergencies. One CDTC staff member will be assigned as the Assigned Incident Management (AIM), while more members of CDTC staff may be assigned responsibility to assist in maintaining regular contact with appropriate emergency-response officials prior to the heavy thru-hiker season, and on an annual basis. This might also be included in regional management meetings, or through use of US Forest Service Law Enforcement networks to ensure federal, state and local agency personnel are also in communication with one another. CDTC will provide training for CDTC staff and appropriate volunteers in responding to emergency response requests and situations.
B.) Responding to Hiker Safety Concerns and Situations
Responses to law-enforcement, fire- control, and search-and-rescue emergencies are the responsibility of local, state, and federal public agencies. While CDTC has no legal responsibility to respond to emergencies, CDTC plays a critical role in educating trail visitors, agency partners, and the general public about the CDT and in helping prevent emergencies from occurring in the first place. As the ground presence, CDTC and its volunteers and partners, should have contingency plans, be ready to assist the appropriate agency in responding to law enforcement, fire, and search-and-rescue episodes, and act as an early warning system to prevent or mitigate issues. When authorized by agency officials, CDTC may be asked to support events and emergency response situations, and CDTC may or may not choose to support these activities.
A key element of an appropriate emergency response is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the power or right to exercise authority over or administer the law in an area. In general, State and local jurisdictions retain their authorities and responsibilities for response to emergencies on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Federal lands on which the CDT resides are under proprietary jurisdiction. Under this form of federal jurisdiction, the United States as owner, exercises all the rights of a private party. In addition, commissioned rangers or Law Enforcement (LEO) /Federal Protection Officers (FPO) of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management or US Forest Service may legally enforce federal regulations. The police, local sheriff’s offices and emergency powers of the states should be exercised in connection with illegal acts of private persons to the same extent they are exercised on privately owned lands, using state and local laws and regulations. States may not enforce federal regulations except to the extent that those regulations have been adopted by state legislatures.
Historically, there have been three distinct groups of activities that fall under the category of trail emergencies or “incidents”: (1) assistance to the general public, (2) criminal incidents, (3) land management incidents such as wildfires, flooding, etc. A fourth category is now being recognized and responded to in an attempt to actively make the outdoors more accessible and equitable. This fourth category is specifically meant to encapsulate acts around sexual harassment, racism, and other hate crimes that are meant to threaten or harm a member of a specific identity.
Below is a brief overview of these types of emergencies as related to visitors to the Continental Divide Trail and its associated facilities, and guidelines for CDTC response in each of the four groups: (1) General Public Assistance, (2) Criminal Incidents, (3) Wildfire and other types of land management “incidents”, (4) Incidents associated with CDT Access or Visitation.
- General Public Assistance
- Description: These types of emergencies/incidents come in by telephone to CDTC’s office, via Facebook comments, or direct email to CDTC. Some of these calls or emails often refer to missing persons or the possibility of a lost or missing trail user. These calls are generated by both private individuals and law enforcement personnel. CDTC receives these calls because of the actual/perceived role we fill as the source for Trail information. Since 2015, the numbers of the calls have increased, and most of these reports are from worried family and friends of trail visitors who have not been heard from in a timely fashion. These information requests are also from local law enforcement or search and rescue agencies that have received a possible lost or missing user and could use additional support from the CDTC in the form of relevant data and maps to locate missing persons.
- CDTC Action:
If contacted about an incident in regards to general public assistance, the concerned individual and associated details will be referred to the staff member who is the assigned incident manager. The assigned staff will encourage the individual to complete the online Incident Reporting form or will collect the information in order to complete the IRF in office. Once all relevant information is gathered, assigned staff will refer the individual to local law enforcement or land agencies. If law enforcement or the land management agency have already been contacted, assigned staff should forward relevant details collected in the Incident Reporting Form to relevant parties. If the individual wishes to remain anonymous, CDTC will remove sensitive identifying information while sharing the pertinent information in regards to the incident that could impact other CDT travelers. All further decisions should be deferred to a plan of action led by law enforcement or public land agency. If the incident reported does not meet the threshold for action by law enforcement or land agencies, further action from CDTC may be required at the request of the individual, if applicable. Further action could include, but is not limited to: a CDTC staff working group to address the issue, an action plan in coordination with relevant parties and/or partners to avoid the incident in the future, communications plan to inform and educate the general public, and proactive changes in CDTC Incident Reporting policy.
In the event of a missing person call from a private individual, that individual will be referred to the law enforcement agency(s) with applicable jurisdiction. If law enforcement has already been informed, the private individual will be connected with the assigned staff member overseeing incident management. Once all parties are connected, including ALL law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction and the CDTC assigned staff, CDTC will defer to the law enforcement agency for further action. If the law enforcement chain of command requests assistance in further communication about a missing person, the CDTC will use appropriate channels of communication, including possibly contacting partner organizations, in order to assist in the search within CDTC organizational limits. All media inquiries will be referred to law enforcement agencies or, if appropriate, responded to by the Executive Director or approved staff.
In the event the CDTC is contacted by law enforcement, CDTC’s role continues as a facilitator of information and connection to the community. Law enforcement should understand that the CDTC has no jurisdiction or authority on the trail under any circumstance. CDTC should ensure that if contacted by law enforcement, then law enforcement should be connected with the appropriate forest or land managing agency. Law enforcement may request help in raising awareness about an incident within CDTC communication networks, in this instance, communications should all go through the assigned staff member. Communications regarding a law enforcement matter should be at the discretion and request of the law enforcement agency with relevant jurisdiction.
- Criminal Incidents
- Description: This category of incident is defined as a criminal act involving one or more persons. As public land usage is concerned, criminal incidents could include a wide range of cases that negatively impact individuals and the resources along the trail. Criminal incidents that could impact individuals could range from theft of personal gear or items to an individual causing bodily harm to another. Criminal incidents that one may encounter that impact resources along the trail could include the destruction of land agency property like a backcountry cabin or hiker groups continually trespassing onto private land. While no major crimes have been reported along the Continental Divide Trail, the same cannot be said for other National Scenic Trails. The unfortunate truth is that criminal incidents occur on public lands, and by learning from these incidents, CDTC strives to maintain a trail culture that prioritizes the health and safety of travelers and the community.
Due to the expansive length of the CDT, CDTC recognizes the challenges of working with multiple agency partners who all refer to their own policies when addressing criminal incidents on the trail in their specific jurisdiction. The response from officials in the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will all be dictated by the individual agencies own policy, which are not all the same. The same is true for on the ground law enforcement based in local communities along the trail who also have jurisdiction over incidents that could happen along the trail and in trail communities. Land management agencies and local law enforcement agencies face unprecedented challenges due to the growing popularity of outdoor recreation, new modes of travel, and increases in the number of access points on public lands. This places the CDTC in the critical position of connecting these agencies with CDT travelers and communities in order to better the efficiency and effectiveness of a convoluted criminal incident reporting system. As in the other categories of incidents, the CDTC will defer to the recommendations of the appropriate land or law enforcement agency on a case by case basis when a criminal incident occurs. CDTC does not have authority or jurisdiction on the trail under any circumstance, and if a criminal incident were to occur, CDTC’s role would continue to be as a facilitator between agencies and a communicator to the impacted communities, at the discretion of the presiding agency with relevant jurisdiction.
- CDTC Action: In the instance that a criminal incident is reported to the CDTC, the assigned incident manager will intake the information using the Incident Reporting Form (IRF). If the information was sent via email or told over the phone, an IRF should still always be completed for CDTC records and to assist in communication of relevant information to the appropriate agencies. This may require the incident reporting manager walking through the form with the impacted individual. Once an IRF is completed, the incident manager should send the completed IRF and refer the individual to the appropriate land agency or law enforcement for an official report. If more than one agency has relevant jurisdiction, for example if there is a trespassing incident that is on Forest Service land but enters into local law enforcement jurisdiction, the CDTC incident manager should act as a facilitator and connect all relevant parties. The CDTC will then defer any further action plan to the relevant law enforcement agency.
With the approval of law enforcement, the CDTC will use appropriate means of communication, including social media and outreach to Gateway Communities, in order to ensure that trail users and trail communities are made aware of criminal incidents that could impact them. All communications regarding a law enforcement matter should be at the discretion and request of the law enforcement agency with relevant jurisdiction. All media inquiries will be referred to law enforcement agencies or, if appropriate, responded to by the Executive Director or approved staff.
- Wildfire and other types of land management “incidents”
- Description: Incidents that fall under a Category III label include conditional circumstances on the trail that could change in a given season and impact travel along the trail and the CDT experience. This could include anything from natural events like flooding and wildfire, to illnesses that spread through a given year’s thru-hiker cohort such as norovirus, to discovery of corridor “encroachments”. In all of these situations, CDTC strives to advise CDT visitors, volunteers, and partners on how to next navigate and report threats in a timely, often real time, manner. CDTC’s main role is a communicator, and the CDTC is neither a law enforcement nor a first responder entity or a search and rescue agency and does not assume liability as such. CDTC will defer to law enforcement, land management agencies, and first responder entities who have professional expertise and occupational capacity to respond to these changing conditions along the trail. CDTC will work alongside the agency with relevant jurisdiction to communicate updates to trail travelers and the trail community in, as well as supply supplementary on-the-ground information and trail expertise. However, from past experiences, and through the learned experience of other Trail partners, CDTC wishes to provide an incident response protocol and policy.
- CDTC Action: If an individual contacts CDTC about a natural or management incident, it is the role of the incident manager to encourage the individual to fill out an Incident Reporting Form or walk through the information with the individual so that the incident manager can complete the form. Once an IRF is completed, the incident manager should connect the reporting party and the IRF to the relevant land management or law enforcement agency. If all parties are connected and all relevant information gathered, CDTC will then follow the direction of the relevant agency for any further plan of action. Further action could include, but is not restricted to: social media posts, coordinating with Gateway Communities to disperse information, additional guidelines for safe hiking in changing conditions, and notices on the CDTC website.
If it is the case that a land management or law enforcement agency contacts CDTC about an incident in this category, CDTC should follow the relevant agency’s plan of action. Most often, agencies ask for help in getting the word out about situations like fire conditions or forecasted flooding that could present a clear and present danger to CDT travelers who have limited access to weather forecast or news of changing on-the-ground conditions when they are in remote areas of the trail. Specifically, this may require CDTC staff to post on social media pages, send emails to registered hikers, forward information to Gateway Communities, identify travelers that could be in the region, and provide additional information on how to practice safe traveling along the CDT for future travelers making plans.
- Incidents associated with CDT Visitation or Access
- Description: The inclusion of this incident group is a decision made with the intent of ensuring the CDT and access to the CDT are equally available and enjoyable by all. This grouping includes incidents such as, but not limited to, sexual harassment, racism, and other hate crimes that specifically target a person in an underrepresented group with the intent to threaten or harm. While the CDTC has no legal jurisdiction, CDTC has a zero-tolerance policy within CDTC and strives to expand that zero-tolerance culture all along the trail. The natural wonders of the trail and all its supplementary benefits should be accessible to all persons as it was intended, without unnecessary impedance. However, these instances have historically occurred and CDTC hopes to proactively plan to address these issues.
- CDTC Action: In the instance that harassment or hate crime is reported to the CDTC, the assigned incident manager will follow similar procedures for other incidents, including the completion of an IRF. If the CDTC receives a report of a Class IV Incident, the assigned staff will do their best to meet the needs of the individual reporting to make the process as accessible as possible. After collecting all available information, assigned staff will encourage individuals to connect with law enforcement or land agencies with proper jurisdiction. However, due to the nature of these incidents and historical context of the impacted populations, individuals may not want contact with law enforcement or land agencies, or they may wish to remain anonymous.
If the incident reported does not meet the threshold for action by law enforcement or land agencies, as determined by the agency with relevant jurisdiction, further action from CDTC may be necessary at the request of the individual or by determination on the part of CDTC that collected information requires coordinated action in response. Further action could include, but is not limited to: a CDTC staff working group to address the issue, an action plan in coordination with relevant parties and/or partners to avoid the incident in the future, communications plan to inform and educate the general public, and proactive changes in CDTC Incident Reporting policy.
The creation of these categories give Continental Divide Trail Coalition staff a framework for responding to trail incidents and emergencies. The implementation of this framework will be done in collaboration with land management agencies, law enforcement agencies, and other community partners.