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How We Approach Safety

To fully appreciate how CopperDog approaches safety it's very helpful to know the history of our inaugural event in 2010. As mushers poured into town for our first race the temperature was in the 50's and it was pouring rain. We literally watched in dismay as the rain and high temperatures eroded our trail system down to the dirt before our eyes.

Going into the third and final stage, record high temperatures concerned the vets and a few mushers considered the trails impassible (dirt, rocks and water barriers). Mushers were split evenly down the middle between pressing on regardless or canceling the third stage of the race. A compromise was reached (the start time moved up and the distance reduced, but a number of mushers walked away never intending to return.

Our fledgling race organization received more than its fair share of unanticipated challenges and tough love that first year.

With our first race wrapped up, we reflected on what we learned and we had a decision to make. We either needed to get out of the racing business or do the work necessary to becoming a world-class event. We chose the latter deciding that we were going to be one of the most dog and musher friendly events in the sport. 

Our motto, "happy healthy dogs, happy healthy mushers" because a constant reminder of our goals and was later expanded to include "happy healthy volunteers".

Since 2010 we have worked very hard to develop our race around this very simple, but power idea. The people who plan the CopperDog are engaged and passionate about every aspect of the event, especially the safety of the dogs, mushers, and hundreds of volunteers who make the race possible.

Although it is impossible to remove all the risk from events like sled dog races, with clear focus and persistence it is possible to minimize risk through excellent planning, effective communication, innovative tools, and hands-on volunteer training.

We do not know if CopperDog is entirely unique in offering hands-on volunteer training (volunteers practicing trail crossings with real 10-dog teams in a large parking lot) to volunteers, but we know it teaches volunteers what they need to know going into race weekend.

Our volunteers are trained how to clearly signal teams (day and night), capture and line out teams, follow the instructions of mushers, log mushers through crossing, and communicate vital data back to headquarters so we can make sure all the mushers are accounted for and making forward progress throughout the race.

We work closely with fire departments, police, search and rescue, first responders, and the road commissions to alert traffic to upcoming trail crossings, close lanes on bridges, and stay in radio communication with headquarters. We also employ a radio network that is constantly sending information on musher movements back to headquarters which is logging data into a database and feeding an interactive map that is estimating the position of each team on the route.

We have some pretty advanced technology driving our information flow and each year the systems are being developed and improved.

We started a new Lead Volunteer program in 2013 where volunteers interested in taking on more responsibility are provided with additional training and tools to help us manage the hundreds of volunteers working the event race weekend. These volunteers will help ensure that race procedures are followed, that information is flowing properly, and safety receives top priority.

Finally for 2013 we have created and filled a new Safety Coordinator position and supporting positions within CopperDog intended on help bring together all of our safety initiatives into a comprehensive plan that actually gets communicated effectively.

Will all of these initiatives guarantee that the CopperDog will never have a tragic incident?  Not by a long shot, but these initiatives help us minimize both the frequency of incidents and their impact when they do occur.

Will our efforts be enough? We hope so, with so many dogs, mushers, volunteers and fans putting their faith in our careful planning to keep them safe.

We are deeply saddened by incidents at any race where dogs and/or mushers are injured, but we must study these incidents to understand would types of policy or procedures can help prevent similar problems from happening in the future.

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