Director’s Order #50C: Public Risk Management Program

What It Is  

This Director’s Order sets a new Servicewide direction, with increased emphasis on the prevention of visitor incidents. While the NPS has historically been concerned about responding to the safety needs of park visitors, this policy is intended to provide standards or guidelines that enhance park efforts to improve overall injury prevention in parks. This Order supplements Section 8.2.5 of Management Policies 2006 by providing guidelines for establishing a risk management process that focuses on the prevention of visitor injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in national parks, while preserving natural and cultural resources and providing visitors with an enjoyable experience consistent with the conservation of those resources.

Visitor risk management does not mean eliminating all dangers, as the NPS cannot guarantee visitor safety or be responsible for all acts and decisions made by visitors. Therefore, injury prevention is a shared responsibility between the park staff/partners and park visitors.

It is the responsibility of park superintendents and their partners (e.g., concessioners, contractors, and permittees) to:

  • Make a reasonable effort to assess risks in their respective parks
  • Eliminate or control the risks when reasonable and appropriate
  • Communicate risks to the public within the limits of available resources as determined by park managers.

It is the responsibility of visitors to plan adequately and prepare for their park visit by:

  • Seeking and heeding the information, advice, and warnings provided by park staff
  • Educating themselves on possible risks associated with a particular park environment and activity in which they engage
  • Understanding their physical and mental limits
  • Taking reasonable precautions during their visit
  • Using reasonable judgment to avoid risks in general

Because of this shared responsibility, a successful risk management program requires that all parties coordinate efforts to identify and understand the nature of park resources, the risks to public safety that are present, and steps that can be taken to reduce unsafe conditions and practices.

Why It Matters

It is the intent of the National Park Service that all visitors have an injury-free park experience. Despite this, each year, thousands of visitors are involved in preventable incidents that result in serious injuries or fatalities. Because of the wide range of activities visitors engage in, and the inherent risks that cannot be managed or transferred away, visitor risk management in the national parks continues to be a difficult challenge. The National Park Service’s mission is to conserve the natural and cultural resources and processes in their care, and provide opportunities for the public to enjoy them.

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