By Bob Difley
RVers must take responsibility for their own safety, especially when boondocking. One of the many joys associated with boondocking is finding those pristine, backwoods campsites or forest service campgrounds that have a minimal connection with civilization. At the same time, they have lots of birds, wildlife, trees, canyons, wild rivers and tumbling streams. Along with those amenities comes difficult access, no cell phone signal, no TV or radio reception, and little, if any, presence of authority. Just the way we like it.
…Until a natural emergency like the flash flood that swamped the Albert Pike forest service campground in western Arkansas a few years back comes along. The rapidly rising river — as much as eight feet of rise per hour — from a torrential rainfall funneled through a steep-sided canyon with nowhere for the water to go but up. There was only one access road in and out, and the Weather Service’s flash flood warning came at 2:00 a.m. — in the middle of the night when all were asleep. All of these conditions were a formula for disaster.
But that’s not all. The nearest authority that could physically go and wake up campers was an hour away. Also there was no cell phone tower anywhere nearby, no warning siren, and broadcast warnings were no more than static on the out-of-signal-range radios — if anybody was listening at that time.
It may seem like a lot of what-ifs had to line up for such a disaster to happen. But think back on some of the locations you’ve probably stayed in — and enjoyed thoroughly — that could have lined up the same kind of scenario.
What you can do to be safer
Adventurous RVers are not likely to give up finding and camping in locations such as Albert Pike campground, or even more isolated locations (I know this from personal experience). But what we can do is take our safety as our personal responsibility and not rely on warning systems, authorities or other methods that may not work, such as:
- Don’t take needless chances if storms are predicted — as summer storms often are in mountainous areas — by camping by a river that flows through a steep-sided canyon.
- Avoid entry roads to campgrounds vulnerable to flooding, washout or fallen trees if a storm is possible, the aftermath of which could prevent your departure.
- Check that your campsite is not over-hung with heavy tree limbs that could come crashing through your roof in the event of heavy winds, or nearby dead trees that could topple.
- Get the latest updated weather forecast before entering the forest since reception of all your communication devices will be limited or non-existent due to the terrain.
- Have alternative plans or options if your first-choice campground appears too vulnerable.
Had the campers taken these precautions, many lives could have been saved. A very tragic lesson for everyone.
Safety tools for boondockers: satellite messenger service.
Be prepared for a tornado.
You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.
We travel with Ham radios, we actually have 3 of them, we chose using Yaesu brand, not to expensive but have a great reputation. One is mounted in our Jeep with our CB radio. The other 2 are hand held. Fortunately I’ve not had to use them for an emergency, but I know that I can get someone to hear me, many miles away. Another feature is they have NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) weather station & they broadcast for several areas that we are in. Also the hand held are great to have when getting into camp, especially when backing in, no more confusing hand signals!
My brother had a small cabin at Albert Pike when the flood came through. I am so thankful he wasn’t there at the time. Many tent campers and RVs were swept away by the fast rising water. Some made it to higher ground and then were still swept away. It was that bad. After it was over my brother went to check on his cabin, he found it still there but full of water. Many cabins that had been in the area were just gone. These people had been camping here for years with never a problem, it only takes once to make you realize the powerful force of nature.