By Simon Forrester (Freelance)
As with any shoot the better you plan the more likely you are to have a successful outcome.
Take a translator / fixer
In the Arctic, as with any wilderness, it is always beneficial to have a translator/fixer who has specific knowledge of the area and peoples that you will be working with. They will be able to give you a good assessment of the safety requirements and logistics whilst you are still in the planning stages.
Consider taking a dedicated safety advisor
Depending on the severity of the risk it may be prudent to have a dedicated crew safety consultant, preferably one that speaks English as a first language – that way there will be no misinterpretation of language at a critical time.
A properly accredited safety expert will not only be able to advise you on risk but should provide any specialist kit required, have a comprehensive first aid kit and be well versed in emergency medical procedures and evacuation strategy. If going into known bear areas also check that they have relevant experience with anti-bear deterrents and firearms.
Common Sense Rules
Even if you don’t feel the need for an expert it is worth bearing in mind a few simple and common sense rules:
- Where at all possible take at least one member of crew with you that has relevant previous experience
- Insure that there are at least two suitably qualified first-aiders on the crew
- Make a check call into the office at a pre-determined time each day
- In the dark/winter never travel alone
- Never walk out of shouting/visual distance from camp with out telling someone where you are going and how long you will be.
- Take some form of communication with you.
- Respect the locals knowledge
Safety should always be the up most priority on a shoot but never more so than during an Arctic winter where cold can freeze exposed skin to metal in a second. It’s also worth remembering that excessive cold can also impair your judgment and slows down your reaction times therefore the speed at which you shoot and everything else that you do around this takes twice as long as you imagine it would.
Working on sea ice is a very dangerous occupation and one that should not be entered into lightly. As a rule never venture out onto the ice without somebody experienced. I have worked on the ice a lot over the years and still make mistakes as do the guys that live there all year round.
Talk to anybody who works on the sea ice a lot and they will have at least one story of being caught unawares and finding themselves drifting away from land on a block of ice or of having fallen through ice that they thought was solid – a very dangerous thing to happen.
A spare set of clothes in a waterproof bag should be carried if you are spending periods of time on ice away from the land.
Sleds can be dangerous
In winter, when walking around settlements or when out on the ice it is important to keep an eye and an ear open for the sound of an approaching sled – they always have priority as sleds are not particularly manoeuvrable and impossible to stop in a hurry.
Double up on communications
If you get into trouble, you may well need to call for help and a reliable system and evacuation procedure should be in place. I would recommend carrying two satellite phones with spare batteries, two GPS. An EPIRB would also be useful.