VTC Progress Report and Next Steps

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Ron Miller, Jenny Tison, Hazel Barton, and Adam Weaver

An article titled “The NSS Vertical Training Commission” in the NSS News (October 2021) introduced the membership to a proposed new commission that would create a national-scale vertical training program for cavers. This article summarizes our progress and outlines the steps that we are taking to realize this exciting vision.

VTC Charter

In August 2021, the NSS Board of Governors (BOG) approved the creation of a Vertical Training Transition Committee, which they charged with drafting the Vertical Training Commission (VTC) charter. In October 2021, the transition committee, led by Hazel Barton and consisting of 13 NSS members with strong and diverse vertical caving backgrounds, solicited input on a draft charter from the NSS membership. As part of our outreach, Hazel also created an NSS YouTube channel video presentation, and hosted an online “town hall” for the NSS membership.

The draft charter received more than 1,000 online views and 87 written comments. The transition committee consid- ered these comments as it created the final charter draft, which was submitted to the NSS BOG and approved in December 2021.

The approved charter charges VTC with:

  • Creating a training curriculum to help interested individuals obtain the appro- priate and sufficient competencies, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills needed to be safe while using vertical caving techniques.
  • Developing and maintaining a vertical training program that provides hands- on experience and training through vertical training courses that are acces- sible, attainable, and understandable to people of diverse knowledge sets and backgrounds, while maintaining mini- mal costs and bureaucratic processes.
  • Training competent, safe, and active vertical trainers to be proficient in teaching VTC educational materials.As outlined in our charter, VTC has adopted a “train-the-trainer” model for our educational programs. A key advantage of this model is that it allows VTC to rapidly scale up our vertical training program, enabling us to deliver high quality vertical training to a large number of students. Nationally trained and qualified “master trainers” will train and qualify “trainers” at the regional level. These trainers will in turn deliver VTC-approved vertical training curricula, primarily in conjunction with NSS grottos.

VTC Structure and Initial Personnel

The VTC charter, available soon at vtc.caves.org, created the VTC board to manage the overall affairs of the organiza- tion. The board, which consists of three officers and eight regional coordinators, also develops master-trainer and trainer qualification and evaluation criteria, facili- tates training opportunities, and reviews and approves course curricula. The VTC curriculum committee, consisting of up to seven individuals with strong and diverse vertical caving and/or educational back- grounds, identifies the core competencies for safe vertical caving and creates the vertical training courses. The VTC advisory board, established by the VTC board at its first meet- ing, serves as an informal resource to both the board and curriculum committee, but has no specific responsibilities. The charter also establishes a webmaster, who develops and maintains the VTC website.

After reviewing online applications from 73 prospective VTC volunteers, we are excited to announce that NSS AVP Adam Weaver has made the following initial appointments:

  • National Coordinator: Ron Miller
  • Secretary-Treasurer: Jenny Tison
  • Education Coordinator: Hazel Barton

Regional Coordinators:

  • North Eastern (CT, ME, MA, NH, NY, RI, VT): Jessica van Ord
  • Eastern (VA, WV, PA, NJ, MD, DE, DC, OH): Kurt Waldron
  • South Eastern (FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, AL, MS, PR, VI): Philip Rykwalder
  • Central (IL, IN, IA, KY, MI, MN, MO, WI): Anmar Mirza
  • South Central (AR, LA, NM, KS, OK, TX): Geary Schindel
  • Rocky Mountain (CO, WY, MT, SD, NE, ND): Georgia Schneider
  • Western (NV, UT, AZ, CA): Annelisa “EC” Moe
  • Pacific Northwest (AK, ID, OR, WA, HI, GU, AS, MP): Eddy Cartaya

Curriculum Committee

  • Hazel Barton (chair)
  • Reilly Blackwell
  • Derek Bristol
  • Emily Davis
  • Jesse Houser
  • Jeremy Weremeichik
  • Tim White

Advisory Board

  • Pat Kambesis
  • Bruce Smith
  • Gary Holliday
  • Dave Heyer (ex officio)

Interim Webmaster

  • Aaron Irons

The VTC board is still working to estab- lish qualification and evaluation criteria for master trainers and trainers. If you applied to be what was initially described as a VTC “instructor,” we greatly appreciate your patience. If you have not yet applied but are interested in serving VTC in either capacity, online applications should be available soon at our website.

Next Steps

The initial VTC staff are actively engaged to realize the vision of an NSS-led national vertical training program. To that end, we are currently working on a number of “next steps”:

  • Developing a “Level 1” vertical training curriculum;
  • Developing training curricula, quali- fication criteria, and policies and procedures for trainers and master trainers;
  • Developing a robust risk management program to maximize safety and mini- mize liability exposure;
  • Developing content for the web site;
  • Revising the draft bylaws that were referenced in VTC charter;
  • Assessing our capital and initial operational needs, and developing a fundraising program to meet those needs;
  • Developing an outreach program to make sure that prospective trainers, other volunteers, and students are aware of what we are doing.
  • Evaluating approaches necessary to maximize opportunities for the training of interested cavers; and
  • Developing a strategic plan to guide our operations and growth over the next 3 – 5 years.

We believe that VTC represents an exciting change for the NSS, and one that has the potential to benefit our caving community for generations. We greatly appreciate the contributions from all of the NSS members who have offered both supportive and constructive input on this new venture. Going forward, we will need the help of many more volunteers to build out our ranks of master-trainers and trainers and to help ensure the success and long-term sustainability of VTC’s educational programs. We look forward to doing that in partnership with all of you.

Interested in helping?

VTC is currently looking for the following types of assistance; please reach out via our soon-to-be-live website (vtc.caves.org) if any of the below are a fit for you:

  • Volunteers: it’s not too late to let us know if you’re interested in becoming a master trainer or trainer, or to volunteer in other ways.
  • In-Kind Donations (new, unused condition only): ropes and rigging gear; personal vertical gear for “loaner” systems.
  • Financial Donations: to help defray capital and initial operating costs, and to help endow a scholarship program to ensure that prospective students, trainers, and master trainers are able to participate in VTC’s vertical training programs.
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