Coordinating EMS at the Boy Scout National Jamboree

Every four years a city of 40,000 people appears practically overnight, lasts for two weeks and then disappears almost as fast

Ed's Note: Volunteers are needed for the 2013 Jamboree. Contact Jay Reeves at, or visit

Every four years a city of 40,000 people appears practically overnight, lasts for two weeks and then disappears almost as fast.

Since 1937 the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has held its National Jamboree, bringing together tens of thousands of scouts from across the United States, and dozens of countries around the world. This city does not appear by magic. It takes years of planning and preparation by scouting professionals, volunteers and local partners to ensure everything is in place to support the residents of this city.

The entire infrastructure that a small city needs to function must be put in place. Food, water, sanitation, programs, IS (information services), media, banking, public safety and medical services, along with dozens of other supporting functions, must all be ready when the scouts arrive. While past Jamborees usually have had medical clinics staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, and a supporting portable hospital from the military, EMS did not exist or had only a modest role. Local ambulances were only used if someone needed to be transported off-site. During the 2005 Jamboree several serious emergencies occurred, which validated the need for a coordinated EMS response at future events. The BSA decided to include an EMS component at the 2010 Jamboree along with the local ambulances on site. BSA volunteer EMTs and paramedics staffed five Gator ambulances and several bike teams to provide EMS services and transport patients to the medical clinics. Following the success of these EMS teams in 2010, the 2013 Jamboree medical leadership decided to expand the roll of EMS at this summer’s event.

Previous Jamborees have been held at temporary locations with infrastructures that had to be set up before the event and torn down afterward. Every Jamboree since 1981 has been held at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. BSA is moving the 2013 Jamboree to a new, permanent location outside Beckley, WV. The move allows for the installation of infrastructure that can be used again at future Jamborees. The new permanent location includes 10,600 acres of wilderness bordering the New River Gorge National Park. This majestic, remote area, which BSA calls “The Bechtel Summit Reserve,” is filled with steep hills and valleys. Many exciting programs are being provided for the attendees, including some that could be considered high-risk. These include BMX biking, skateboarding, scuba, shooting sports, miles of zip lines, white water rafting, rock climbing and 37 miles of professionally-designed mountain bike trails. Along with the normal variety of medical problems found in a city of 40,000 residents are the additional challenges of rough terrain, response distances and venomous snakes. Construction crews at the site have already observed and disposed of hundreds of rattlesnakes, with at least one reportedly over six feet in length.

Due to the ruggedness of the new site, EMS providers have to rethink how they will respond to emergencies. This past summer a four day “shakedown” was held at the Summit. It included approximately 2,000 scouts and allowed BSA to test some of the programs and support operations planned for Jamboree 2013. Along with everyone else, medical and EMS teams discovered many challenges they will need to overcome for the big event.

BSA Medical/EMS has recruited a core group of medical and EMS professionals with years of experience in their fields, in addition to being experienced scouters. These volunteers include a core group of several EMS physicians and paramedics from around the country who developed the EMS system at the Jamboree, which is now called “Summit EMS.” Creating an EMS system from scratch is a challenge. To create one to support 40,000 people, with few resources or people, for two weeks and then shut down seems almost crazy. The EMS core group identified challenges and is working on its plan. Their ultimate goal is to develop an EMS system which operates at the highest standards and in concert with the excellent existing local West Virginia EMS system.

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