Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hug-a-Tree: Keeping Our Youngest Characters (and our real-life kiddos) Alive in the Woods with Jacquie Beveridge

Jimmy Beveridge

On Saturday, February 6, 1981, The Beveridge family was camping in San Diego County. The three Beveridge brothers set out on a foot race but only two arrived back at their camp. Nine-year-old Jimmy was missing. More than 600 people helped to search for Jimmy, including 200 marines.

Sadly, the weather was not with Jimmy, thick fog and torrential rains hampered the searchers efforts. On Thursday the 12th a man who knew the Beveridge family set out on his own to follow a hunch and found Jimmy's body.

Today on ThrillWriting, I have the great privilege of hosting Jimmy Beveridge's mother, Jacquie.

Now, I know that this is a writers' blog. But I have always felt that we fiction writers have a great opportunity to educate. By writing a scene correctly into a novel - a mother or father might learn something that could save their family from the devastation of losing a child. This is why I invited Jacquie to visit with us - so we can teach writers how to write it right and keep our youngest characters and our real-life kiddos safe.

Jacquie, I remember the search for your son: I was in high school at the time. Later, when I became a mother myself, I read that you had put together the Hug-a-Tree Program. Can I just tell you what an impact you had on me as a young mother. First, because you experienced such a heart wrenching loss; but second, because you acted to prevent that tragedy from happening to other families. My children were taught the Hug-a-Tree principles.

Jacquie reading her young son, Jimmy

Jacquie - Oh, Fiona.....I am so glad to hear this. Absolutely. I have to tell you that even while Jimmy was lost, I knew his life would make a difference for others.

Fiona -
And you have made sure that that premonition came true. - around the world - you will never know the number of families you protected.

The Hug-a -Tree Program is a national effort, how did you get the ball rolling?

Jacquie - 
As a direct result of Jimmy's death, the Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program was created to educate children in basic wilderness survival techniques.For many years the program was administered by myself and a woman named Jackie Heet, in San Diego, California. When I took a break, Ab Taylor (one of the founders) turned it over to National Association for Search and Rescue.

English: Two in one tree in Blean Woods This c...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiona - 
Can you start in the beginning. Our characters - a typical family - are getting ready for an day in nature. What should they do prior to leaving their house?

Jacquie -
Safety begins with planning.

* An imprint of your child's shoe print should be made on a piece of aluminum foil. Place the foil on a folded
   towel and have the child walk onto the foil. Each shoe should be imprinted. The child's name can be
   written on the edge of the foil with a pencil. Then store the foil in a safe place. Having the imprint makes a
   huge difference if trackers need to do their job and look for  footprints.

Before setting off, remember to make a good impression.

Jacquie (cont.) - 
Before going out, parents should go over some simple reminders with their children:
* Have a whistle and plastic trash bag with you when you go out. 
   The whistle can be carried on a string around your neck. The bag
   can be folded and carried in your pocket. If you have a backpack,
   the bag can go in there, along with some water and
   nuts, granola, or power bars.
* In this day and age it's easy to snap a photo with your cell phone
   before children go out to hike or play. That way you know what 
   they are wearing and it makes a description easier.
* It's also a good idea to have a signal mirror with you.
* Before going out to hike or play always tell someone where you
   are going. And, then don't change your plan.
* Wear bright colored clothes
* If you should realize you're lost....stay put! Hug-A-Tree.
* Try to pick your tree near a clearing if possible.
* It's also good to pick a tree that has other trees around, especially
   if there is a storm.
* The tree is your friend! It will keep you company and provide
    some shelter. Hugging a tree and talking to it calms the child
    down and prevents panic. By staying in one place, the child is
    found much more quickly.
* It is also good to have a flashlight in the backpack. The LED ones
   now are very bright and small. One can be carried on the string
   with the whistle.

Using the Hug-a-Tree Program as a springboard, 
this is what the Quinn family does to prep the children for a day outdoors.

Fiona - 
The parents have put a whistle around their child's neck and put a trash bag in their pocket. Can you explain the importance of the trash bag?

Jacquie and her son Jeff demonstrating the trash bag
survival shelter

Jacquie - 
The trash bag can be used as emergency shelter. It will keep you dry and warm. The bag is important to prevent hypothermia. When people run in a panic, they often get hot and take their jacket off. If they do get hot, the arms of the jacket should be tied around their waist so it's handy later when it gets cold. When hypothermia sets in, people become confused and think they're
hot when they're really cold.

Jackie and Jeff
ALWAYS make a hole in the bag for your face, so you can see and breathe. But, not so big that your head sticks out. A lot of body heat is lost through the head.

Jeff , tucked safely into his shelter

It's good to show photos of a child with the bag on them. I sent you a photo of Jeffrey with my bag. The bag can be prepared ahead of time with the hole and tape around it to keep it from tearing further.

Fiona - 
We don't want to scare our kiddos - nature should be fun - but we do need them to be safe. What do you teach the children about the whistle?

Jacquie - 
* The whistle is much louder than your voice. When we do the
   program, we demo with a child from the audience who yells help 
   as loud as possible. After yelling about three times their voice gets
    raspy. Then we demo the use of the whistle which illustrates
    how much louder it is and doesn't take as much energy.
* We explain that it's good to blow in a sequence of three blasts.
    This is like an SOS signal.
* If you hear someone searching for you blow the whistle so they
   can determine the area the sound is coming from.
* Children also ask about wild animals. We tell them if you hear a
   sound blow your whistle! If it is an animal it will run away to
   protect itself. If it is a searcher they will hear you and come find

Fiona - 
Horribly, our character's child is lost. Lets talk about the search process. What should the child know and do?

Jacquie - 
* The child should also be instructed ahead of time how to make
   themselves BIG. By wearing bright colored clothes, especially a 
   light colored hat, they are easier to spot from the air.
* If they hear a helicopter they can go into the clearing near their
   tree and lie down on the ground so they are more visible to the 
* They can use a stick to make an arrow pointing to their tree or an
   X on the ground. Or use rocks to make an arrow or X. Anything
   that looks out of the norm will be easier to spot.
* Sometimes children ask if they should carry matches to start a
    fire. The answer is absolutely not! That is much too dangerous. if
    they have their trash bag to keep them warm they won't need a

Fiona - 
What are some of the issues that children have expressed during training?

Jacquie - 
* It's important for children to understand that their parents won't
   be mad at them if they get lost.
* And, the people looking for them are volunteers. Often children
    think their parents would never spend that much money on them 
    for a search.

Fiona - 
That's a very interesting point - I never thought about that. The child might think that the parent would not search for them, and that it is up to that child to get herself back safely?

Jacquie - 
Yes! One was overheard in the area of the search for Jimmy saying, "my parents would never spend the money for this on me." That's why it's very important for them to know that the searchers are volunteers who care about them and their family.

Fiona - 
English: Mounted search and rescue training of...
English: Mounted search and rescue training of rider, horse, and dogs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What are some of normal behaviors by a lost person?

Jacquie - 
Lost person behavior has shown that people tend to run uphill thinking they can see better. This just gets them farther from where they were last seen and tires them out.

Also, children have hidden from searchers thinking they are strangers.
Often, nowadays, the child has a secret word than can be used so they know the searcher is not a "stranger."

Fiona - 
Yes, we used "butterflies" as our secret call word.

Jacquie - 
One of our presenters was on a search and kept sensing a movement behind him. This happened several times. Finally he turned quickly and caught a glimpse of the child he was looking for diving under a bush. He asked the child if he was Johnny. The child said, yes. The searcher said," I've been calling your name and trying to find you. Why are you hiding?" The child said, "I thought you were a stranger."

If a parent can't find their child, at what point should they seek help? Who should they call? And what are the key pieces of information the parent can give (let's pretend they stopped for a picnic so mom did not take she impressions but she never let the kids out in any kind of nature without the whistle and bag).

Jacquie -
As soon as the parent thinks the child is lost the sheriff should be notified. Even if the child gets back before the sheriff arrives, they will be happy that a search wasn't necessary.
* A parent should provide a physical description of the child and
   what they were wearing.
* If there is a secret word, the parent should share it with the

Fiona - 
What should a parent expect to happen after the phone call goes out, and the child is not found. Let's say the sun is going down for the evening.and the sheriff is on scene

A search and rescue dog training event. Breed ...
A search and rescue dog training event. Breed pictured unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jacquie - 
It can take time for the searchers to respond. Many are volunteers and may not be close by.
The parent(s) need to remain calm. As hard as that is, and provide as much information as possible.
Stay at the campsite/picnic site so they are available.

Once a search team is assembled, they will head out, even in the dark. Depending on conditions they may have a helicopter available too.

Fiona - 
And what are the professionals doing? Did they have someone assigned to your family to keep you informed and give you support?

Jacquie - 
Nowadays many departments have a TIP (Trauma Intervention Program) with volunteers to stay with a family during a time such as this. We did not have such a thing available at the time. A friend of ours came and stayed with us and helped entertain Jeffrey.

Fiona - 
Is there an arc of hope? By that I mean - obviously based on weather and environment -- at what point do things start becoming critical.

Jacquie - 
It depends on the weather, of course. If it's very cold and the child is not prepared with trash bag, hypothermia can set in quickly.

If it's hot, water is a concern.

Amazingly children have been found after a search of several days.

Jeffrey's Godfather was lost during the search for Jimmy. He was bull-headed and determined to find him on his own. Now, mind you, this was a police captain with military experience. Unfortunately, his common sense went out the window.

Fiona - 
Of course it did!

Jacquie - 
He was found after four days. He had cuts and scratches. He was dehydrated and had diarrhea from eating acorns. Thankfully, he survived.

Depending on weather conditions, a person can survive 3-5 days without water. Doctors say that a person can go up to eight weeks without food.....if they have water. Of course for a child it would be much less just because of their size.

Fiona - 
One question that comes to mind - the trash bag will protect until what temp? How cold could the night get and the child come through?

Jacquie -
The trash bag can protect even to a freezing temperature, if the person has the majority of their body covered. We have the child sit next to the tree and cover as much of their body as possible.

Fiona - 
Writers if you want more information, here's the LINK to NASAR and the Hug-A-Tree Program

And if your character and her children headed out for some fun in nature - here is a quick video to explain how they can stay safe. Great information for your real children to watch, too.

Fiona (cont.)
Now my last question - It is a tradition on Thrillwriting to ask the story behind your favorite scar.

Jacquie - 
My favorite scar.......hmmmmm. I guess it's the star shaped one on my right forehead. It was acquired on a trip to Puerto Vallarta when I had a margarita that was evidently spiked with something very strong. I got sick from it and cracked my head on the sink in the bathroom. The trip to the doctor for stitches was quite an experience. At least he spoke English. The scar is a reminder to drink things that come in bottles that I open when I'm in a foreign country.

Fiona - 
Thank you, Jacquie - for all you've done and do for our children. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Fiona and Jacquie. As a writer and a mom of boys, I processed this on both levels. My boys just bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, and are learning all kinds of survival techniques. I hadn't heard of the Hug-A-Tree method until today, but I will definitely share with others!

  2. I'm so glad you're sharing this vitally important information, Becky!

  3. Fiona and Jacquie, thanks so much for this inspiring story and information. As a mother, I can't imagine the tragedy of losing a child. As a writer, I know the power of words to heal and inform and to help turn tragedy into inspiration and the saving of other little boys like Jimmy. I remember my kids learning about Hug-A-Tree on Barney but I never knew the origins of such a brilliant and simple idea. Thanks so much!

  4. You're most welcome, Debra! I appreciate Fiona making this vitally important information available. I hope your boys will share what they learned with others!