A short guide to organizing an expedition, a wedding, a cave course, one-day events and all kind ot tips that will help you.
“Preparration and organization is very important” or instead of an introduction.
Understand “organization” as the necessary preparation to achieve anything, ie. the first step and the very beginning, but also the conceptual framework, structure and backbone of any project, expedition or training. In short, the organization is who, what and when anything will be done. Without organization, many of our activities, goals, and tasks are doomed to failure.
In speleology, organization becomes even more important. The nature of caving, as multi-day and technically complex exploration of remote areas, often, with a large number of participants, creates the need for “iron” organization! Here everyone has a specific role, important tasks and decisive deadlines.
The worst case scenario is that we have to solve organizational problems during implementation of an activity. Supposedly, to cope at a depth of 500 meters, in narrow and wet meanders, with things that we should have prepared and planned from the comfort of the sofa at home, days, weeks, and sometimes months before the event. We can manage that during one of this activities and sometimes thats inevitable, but as an organizational rule we have to prepare for everything we can anticipate in order to reduce situations in which we have to improvise.
In order to have a working organization, we start in advance. Such an approach gives the necessary advantage, things to happen in a controlled way and to avoid chaos and tension the closer we get to the event. The participants will also have time to think, decide and organize their personal life around the given time frame. Also, we will often depend on other people, third parties indirectly involved in our plans, getting information or tools and so on. It is not, efficient nor very moral to burden these people with obligationsideas and requests such as: “need help today”, “do it immediately”, etc. If you know you will need a specific tool, ask for it in advance, so there is no risk of ending up without something vital, which can slow down or stop the achievement of the set goals.
As for how early you need to start planning will depend entirely on the event itself, a day trip to a familiar cave might need a day of planning, but entire expedition to a new area need much longer preparationation. The nature of the event is decisive, from day to day basis to an entire year. No matter how successful you have been in organizing previous events, you can optimize the process and be even more adequat and successful next time.
Make sure you know the exact locations of the sites and places you gonna visit, and prepare acordingly. Again, whether this is your first time in this area, cave or country, or you consider it a place you know well, be prepared. If its a new place and you go there for a first time, it is clear that a more serious approach is required. On the other hand, if you are familliar with the place, people and situation, things might go a little inertia. Which could be both a good and easier, but also might lead to a problems.
Depending on the purpose of the event, a different type of preparation regarding the location will be needed. However, when it comes to typical underground activities, such as mapping, exploring an area, climbing etc., just take a laminated or well-protected map with you. The self-confidence of knowing the site and the area would lead you to a bunch of possible situations in which you find yourself unprepared. Most often it would be that you have to change the planned place of work and everything might collapse. The map does not weigh, on the contrary there are many advantages, you just have to be prepared. And remember, that the map is useful only when it is with you and you can read it correctly, ie. do not leave it in the camp, take it with you!
What do we know
Where we are going is only part of what we have to know and understand about the goal. Ask questions and gather as much information as possible. Important things are:
- Area – approach to the cave, remoteness, availability of drinking water, map of the area/mountain. If it is an international event, then the verification of the necessary documents and permits should be done as soon as possible and with a reliable source.
- Weather forecast – depend on the type of the ecent, check for heavy rain or show fall, temperatures, etc.
- The site/cave – horizontal or vertical nature, technical description, whether there is water or what happens in case of precipitation on the surface, temperature, type of clothing needed for penetration (cordura, PVC, neoprene), are there narrow passages, key areas, cave maps.
Any previous situation or advice is not superfluous. Even more so, you draw from the experience of others, and any information be useful! Without experience, who would have thought to carry bih plastic bags to go through a potential waterfall!?
What to take
In order to be able to fulfill our goals and not blow up before we even start, we must not forget any of the equipment we need. According to our modest experience, the most common cause of creating new railings and unclimbed passages is a forgotten bore. Forgotten things combined with bad judgment can seriously affect our much-needed security. And when we add all the possible missing things, the experience becomes lackluster. It’s clear how unpleasant it is to forget the toothbrush at a bivouac for a couple of days.
If you have enough experience, things happen easily and without much effort, you know exactly what you need and in general you have no bad memories of forgotten things.
If the above does not apply to you, start with lists. Arrange things in logical categories, think of anything you might need and don’t forget to ask for advice.
- Personal speleo equipment – do you have everything for normal and comfortable penetration into the cave, to participate in this expedition, etc.
- Personal camping and other equipment – do you have the necessary layer of dry and warm clothes. If you gonna sleep in the cave, will you be able to bring everything in and out dry, or will you have additional camping equipment outside?
- Food – it’s easy, follow the rule “to be enough it must have left-overs”, and also to have additional food on the surface. Do you have enough gas and spare gas stove, lighters?
- General inventory – here is the actual challenge! What to take and not overdone it? Given the set goals, you will have to think about what you need, it is clear that mapping and descending into new shafts require radically different equipment and inventory. If you are unsure about this task, ask for help or just have someone experienced look at your list once it’s ready.
- First aid – often neglected, this is the package we always need! Whether it’s a day walk or a heavy long penetration, just have it in your bag. Tell the group that you have it, however, you do not need to equip a small hospital, consider how much is enough.
- Additional stuff – “the old dogs” will be able to give you valuable advice on what else to prepare for, and you would never think of. Ask!
Who are the participants? According to the answer to this question, it will depend on how realistic the set goals are, whether the leadership of the group will be needed a lot or things will run on their own, if your group will be efficient and what will be the level of security. It is important to conclude what the level of the group is and how experienced they are. Here prejudice will be a good companion. A “prejudice” in this case can be defined as our best guess based on the information we have.
Remember that the success of the whole event will depend on the good organization of each individual participants. Even small mistakes, like forgetting a hydro bag or few packs of spare batteries can lead to a disaster and shorten or even end the event.
Even with a perfect organization, but weak team, things will probably fall apart before they even start. However, the opposite is not necessary, we have seen many times well prepared teams with poor organization to succeed. With a lot of “swearing”, but they succeed!
The idea is that with good organization we can optimize a less experienced or well-established group, while good organization and a good team are a recipe for great results.
To avoid problems with the participants and many accompanying things, good communication is a must! Remember the “Time Frame”, start from afar and inform the people involved with everything you know. We often think that the obvious and the derivative of common sense should not be pointed out, but no, thats a huge mistake. The obvious is different for everyone, so think carefully about whether everyone knows and understands things the same way the leaders do, and share, explain, and remind.
Present the plan, explain what needs to be taken, what is the destination, what are the goals and then follow with reminders, operatives, briefings and explanations. At each stage of the event, each participant must be aware of what is happening, what follows and what is there to be done.
Try with different ways of communication, for example:
- E-mail – for a complex and long-term project, e-mail can increase the complexity of the organization. Send files, links, photos, etc. Also, everything remains documented and you can check what you sent, presented or explained months ago.
- Social media – it’s just convenient; The difference from e-mail is that here you can understand in the short term and at the micro level, questions, concerns and things that happen in the course of the event, or need discussion. Keep in mind that discussions on important organizational topics should be conversed eye to eye. Avoid social media when finalizing decisions, it is not effective.
- Google spreadsheets – it has many applications. We treat it as a list, table, budget and all in real time. In other words, anyone can add, correct, comment, etc., and the information can be updated easily and everyone who has access can see the changes immediately.
- Meetings – at one point a meeting with the largest possible number of participants is recommended or even mandatory. Here questions are answered, ideas are discussed, problems are pointed and solved, etc.
Use and combine the proposed ways of communication, as you see fit and according to the scale and idea of your event.
Single person cannot do everything, you need a group And when there is a group, there are enough people to assign tasks to. Don’t worry and turn to the participants, everyone will take on a small task and the organization will become easier. Deadlines help us make sure we are on schedule. Food, equipment and information gathering are just an example of how tasks can be distributed. Well, the trick is for everyone to do their job.
In order for the event to be successful, someone has to watch closely, so the tasks should take place in the planned order and according to the specified deadlines. Any organization can afford to deviate from the original planor just say “come on letsrelax for a bit”. This is the moment when plan and implementation must overlap, otherwise … what we have decided to do will simply not happen.
It is an art to be able to judge and to feel what deviations the initial plan can bear, in order things to happen, the participants to be satisfied and the results to be satisfying.
Some people have a strong sense and can recognize if everything is about to end bad. Some of these can skillfully stop the cart from turning over and still achieve the goals. Well, it’s best not to get there if possible, but still if that happens, react in time and go back to your initial decisions, plans and ideas. Everything is already planned and organized, it just has to go back in rails.
Do not overdo it
As with many other things, the organization can be overdone. If you put too much time and effort into meetings, tables, checks, gathering information, etc. neither time nor strength will be left for you to achieve what you have originally conceived. Тhe risk of everything remaining in its infancy and only on the table is significant. Think of the organization as an idea that will guide you and help you achieve your goals, but it is not the goal itself in any way.
Well… did you make it?
How will you know that you have succeeded? And for this there are different versions of reality, but here is a sample test:
- Have you completed your tasks in real time?
- Are the participants satisfied during and after the project?
- Have you managed to deal with all the problems?
- Do you want to start a similar organization again?
If the answer is “YES”, then you have rarely had a successful event that will push all participants into something even more interesting, even more exciting!
Congratulations, if you are engaged in such an organization, then you are already the leader of a serious event! It is important to be aware that you are the leader here, whether you feel that way or not, you are responsible for what will happen and whether it will happen at all. You are the main protagonist and everyone is watching you, asking you and waiting for you to guide them.
You will have to think about a lot of things, like:
- What are the goals and how do you want to achieve them?
- How to unite the participants and ensure efficiency, but also a good atmosphere among them?
- Who can do what, also who should not do what, etc.
- What do you have and what do you need, where can you find it, how can you get it?
- What are the risks and what is their nature, how to avoid them?
- What are the obstacles or expected most critical moments of the organization?
In fact, all this material and what you need to think about are in the lines above!
Good luck with the ideas and set goals, this is not an easy task, but you may like it.
What’s next or how to get started?
For things to happen, ideas need to be verbalized, shared… talk about what you want to happen, explain how you imagine it, use examples from previous events, discuss possible problems and their solutions. Discuss it constantly and everywhere. Part of your vision will find good ground, some will be rejected or completely changed. For such organization in speleology you need people, friends with whom to start with an idea and implement it, and good organization will help you do it!
Here you will find a checklist, which will help you with the organisation of your next speleo event: