Hack3.Safety First


Hack 3. Safety First

Take precautions to keep small problems small.

The days when most amateur astronomers observed from their own backyards are long gone. Light pollution forces most of us to seek observing sites far from cities, often in the middle of nowhere. But with civilization comes safety. If you have a problem at home, you dial 911 and the police or paramedics or animal control officers arrive in a few minutes. If you have a problem at a remote observing site, it's up to you to deal with it until help arrives, which may be some time.

If you're prepared, small problems tend to stay small. If you're not, a small problem can rapidly escalate into a dangerous emergency. Here's what we recommend to prepare yourself:


Observe in a group

There really is safety in numbers. A lone observer may be victimized by two- or four-legged predators or may have a medical emergency. Bad things are less likely to happen when you observe with a group [Hack #2], and if a problem does arise there are people there to help.


Never leave the last person alone

Use the buddy system. The last two vehicles remaining at the end of an observing session should leave together, particularly if the site is remote.If you have company, a flat tire or other breakdown is merely annoying.If you don't, it can be very inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

Call us sexist, but we never leave a woman or even a group of women alone, even at a regular club observing site near civilization. It's just too risky. Most women appreciate having men stick around to protect them. For those who don't, we just pretend we aren't ready to leave until they start to pack up.



Carry a cell phone

A cell phone can be a lifeline in an emergency. Make sure the phone is charged and verify that you have a usable signal from your observing site. Store local emergency numbers for your observing site, not just 911, but the direct numbers for the local police and fire departments, hospital or emergency clinic, paramedic/rescue squads, and so on. Know the exact location of your observing site, and how to direct emergency services to locate it.


Notify someone of your location and expected return

Particularly if you are observing alone, make sure someone knows exactly where you are and when you expect to return. If the observing site is remote, make sure to provide a detailed map and/or GPS coordinates. If something happens to you while you are observing, it's good to know that someone will come looking for you sooner rather than later.


Carry a first-aid kit

Assemble or buy a first-aid kit such as the Johnson & Johnson Ready Organized First Aid Kit. At a minimum, have sterile dressings, adhesive bandages in various sizes, cotton balls or swabs, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, antibiotic ointment, burn ointment, eye-wash solution, aspirin, Imodium, and similar basic supplies. Also carry any medications you may need for acute emergencies, such as insulin, an inhaler, epinephrine injector, heart medication, and so on. Be sure to observe expiration dates for any medicines and replace them when they do expire. It's easy to lose track of how long it's been since you packed your kit.


Take first-aid and CPR training

Some of the members of your regular observing groupideally all of themshould have at least basic first-aid and CPR skills. Contact the Red Cross for information about local classes.


Keep an eye out for severe weather

City dwellers don't fully appreciate the majesty of nature. It's one thing to sit out a severe thunderstorm huddled in your basement or hall closet. It's quite another to experience it up close and personal in the middle of an open field miles from nowhere. The spring and summer months are particularly hazardous because thunderstorms and tornados can pop up with little or no warning. Check the weather forecasts before you depart for an observing session, and know where the nearest shelter is.


Dress for the weather

Make sure your clothing is appropriate for the conditions. Dress warmly for cold weather sessions [Hack #4]. Disease-bearing mosquitos and ticks are a problem during warm weather in many areas. Use DEET-based insect repellant and pay particular attention to your legs. Wear high, thick socks, tight pant cuffs, and drench the clothing near your ankles with insect repellant. Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is no fun at all. In poisonous snake country, wear high, snake-proof boots or snake pants.

If you use DEET, particularly in a high concentration, be careful with it around plastic, including plastic eyeglass lenses. DEET dissolves plastic.



Prepare your vehicle

Before you depart for an observing session at a remote site, make sure your vehicle won't let you down. Check the spare tire, battery, and oil level, and fill the gas tank. Carry a basic set of hand tools, jack, emergency tire inflator, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, and so on. A power inverter can also be very handy.


Carry an emergency kit

Pack an emergency kit in a duffle bag and leave it in your vehicle. Include blankets (traditional and space), a catalytic propane heater or other source of heat, a flashlight with spare batteries, a Swiss Army Knife, storable high-energy foods, and several liters of water stored in clean soft-drink bottles.


Arm yourself

Yes, we know this is controversial, but we consider it good advice, particularly if you observe at remote locations in areas where rabies is endemic or there are poisonous snakes or large predators. Robert generally brings a .44 revolver or a 12-gauge riot shotgun to observing sessions. If you don't own a firearm or if you are uncomfortable bringing it along, a whistle, air-horn, or other loud noisemaker may discourage bears and other four-legged predators.

Observing safety is mostly a matter of common sense. If you always keep safety in the back of your mind, you'll be fine.