Standards for private organizations

2020 Edition

Wilderness and Adventure-Based Therapeutic Outdoor Services (WT) 14: Activity Technical and Safety Requirements

The organization considers safety and technical requirements, competence of leaders, and the abilities of youth when engaging in potentially demanding or high risk activities.
2020 Edition




Youth who participate in Wilderness and Adventure-based Therapeutic Outdoor Services expand individual capabilities, develop self-confidence and insight, ameliorate symptoms, and improve interpersonal skills and relationships.
All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, as indicated by full implementation of the practices outlined in the Practice Standards.
Practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards; e.g.,
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality; or
  • Procedures need strengthening; or
  • With few exceptions, procedures are understood by staff and are being used; or
  • For the most part, established timeframes are met; or
  • Proper documentation is the norm and any issues with individual staff members are being addressed through performance evaluations and training; or
  • Active client participation occurs to a considerable extent.
Practice requires significant improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards. Service quality or program functioning may be compromised; e.g.,
  • Procedures and/or case record documentation need significant strengthening; or
  • Procedures are not well-understood or used appropriately; or
  • Timeframes are often missed; or
  • Several client records are missing important information; or
  • Client participation is inconsistent. 
Implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards; e.g.,
  • No written procedures, or procedures are clearly inadequate or not being used; or 
  • Documentation is routinely incomplete and/or missing.      
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Procedures for activity preparation, including assessing group safety and skill level
  • Procedures regarding use of protective gear and equipment
  • Fire safety procedures
  • Fire safety training curricula
  • Authoritative information regarding compliance with accepted standards for all climbing equipment owned or used by the organization 
  • Credentials of individuals responsible for supervising climbing equipment
  • Climbing equipment inspection and safety reports for the past 12 months
  • Proof of accreditation, licensure, or certification appropriate for high-risk activities
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Youth or families served
  • Review personnel files

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.01

Before initiation of an activity, the organization:
  1. orients personnel to the terrain, sites, or waterways that will be used;
  2. verifies that personnel have direct experience with, and up-to-date information about, the conditions that may be encountered; and
  3. provides youth with complete information about geographic boundaries for the activity, rendezvous times and places, and emergency procedures.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.02

The organization evaluates potentially demanding activities for level of difficulty and undertakes only those within the competence of the leaders and the abilities of youth.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.03

When the activity involves travel or movement, youth receive instruction in pacing, fluid intake, clothing and footwear, equipment, and possible hazards.
Examples: Relevant activities may include hiking, running, climbing, canoeing, bicycle touring, or similar pursuits.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.04

Youth and personnel use protective gear and equipment as appropriate, including:
  1. personal flotation devices (Type III) for water activities;
  2. location devices and reflectors for dusk and night activities;
  3. helmets for biking, climbing, caving, or other appropriate activities; and
  4. other protective gear and equipment as appropriate to the activity to be undertaken.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.05

As applicable to the activity being conducted, the organization maintains clear guidelines and trains personnel and youth on safely building and extinguishing fires.
NA The organization does not conduct activities that involve building and extinguishing fires.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.06

Ropes courses, alpine or climbing towers, and artificial wall climbing activities meet the following requirements:
  1. the facilities and equipment used have been constructed by or are under the supervision of recognized experts in the field;
  2. personnel have been trained by recognized experts in the field and have a working knowledge of ropes course and climbing equipment elements, technology, construction, usage and inspection; and
  3. appropriate inspection and safety procedures have been fully implemented.
NA The organization does not offer ropes courses, alpine or climbing towers, or artificial-wall climbing activities.
Note: COA does not approve, certify, or accredit ropes courses, alpine or climbing towers, or artificial wall climbing programs. The organization must seek independent review by recognized experts for that purpose. The organization’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of youth and personnel. Therefore, WT 14.06 applies to facilities owned or operated by the organization as well as facilities used by the organization’s youth but owned and operated by others. In all cases, the organization must provide authoritative information regarding compliance with accepted standards for special program components.

Fundamental Practice

WT 14.07

Organizations that offer high-risk activities, either directly or through an external provider, use certified instructors and maintain proof of accreditation, licensure, or certification with a nationally recognized authority for the activity being conducted.
NA The organization does not offer high-risk activities, either directly or through an external provider.
Examples: High-risk activities can include:
  1. white water rafting, kayaking, or canoeing;
  2. snow and ice climbing or glacier travel;
  3. mountaineering, bouldering, and rock climbing;
  4. top rope climbing and rappelling;
  5. caving;
  6. river crossing;
  7. solo expeditions;
  8. activities involving flying, hang gliding, gliding, and parachuting; and
  9. other high-risk activities.