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LCQ3: Hiking safety
     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (May 10):


     It has been reported that the first four months of this year already saw the death of five persons, due to sickness or accidents during hiking, and this number has exceeded that of four persons for the whole of last year. Moreover, on March 22 this year, a Principal Fireman died on duty after losing his footing and falling off a cliff in a rescue operation for hikers who had got lost. A mountaineering expert has pointed out that hiking has become increasingly popular in recent years, but hikers often do not make adequate preparation before setting off, which has resulted in frequent accidents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of rescue operations for hikers carried out in the past three years by staff members of the various government departments concerned;
(2) whether it has plans to step up the relevant publicity work in the light of the inadequate preparation made by hikers before setting off; if so, of the details;
(3) given that the risk of hikers encountering accidents at hiking spots not only depends on geographical factors but also varies from time to time with weather conditions (e.g. very hot, very cold, dry, rainstorm, and strong wind), whether the Government has plans to establish a comprehensive risk rating mechanism and disseminate, from time to time through such mechanism, information on the risk levels of hiking spots to enable hikers to select hiking spots according to their ability, experience and equipment;
(4) whether it will consider establishing an open database on accident black spots in country parks and erecting warning signs on paths leading to such black spots, so as to remind hikers to stay away from danger; and 
(5) whether it will arrange more staff members of the Fire Services Department and other relevant government departments to receive training on mountain rescue; if so, of the details?



     Our response to Hon Chan Hak-kan's questions is as follows:

(1) Mountain search and rescue is mainly carried out by the Civil Aid Service (CAS), the Government Flying Service (GFS) and the Fire Services Department (FSD). According to the Police's records, there were 990, 1 134 and 1 327 cases of requests for assistance related to hikers reported via 999 emergency hotline in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. The numbers of rescue operations for hikers carried out by the CAS, the GFS and the FSD over the past three years are as follows:
  2014 2015 2016
CAS 118 133 109
GFS 503 560 513
FSD 403 340 357

(2) A number of government departments are involved in publicising and promoting hiking safety. The FSD has posted safety hints on mountain activities, including information on hiking routes, weather conditions, clothing and gears, on the Department's website for public information. In addition, the FSD would publicise such messages through various safety activities. The CAS plans to launch a series of promotional activities on hiking safety from May to December this year. These include distributing "Hiking Safety Checklists" and promotional materials at the starting points of popular hiking trails, organising talks and promoting through multimedia on hiking safety and accident handling procedures. The CAS also held the Launching Ceremony of the Hiking Safety Promotion Campaign with several government departments and mountaineering organisations at Pak Tam Chung P.H.A.B. (Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied) Site in Sai Kung on May 3. The Police from time to time publicise messages on safety issues, which the public should pay attention to when going on hiking, through the Police Magazine programme and the Police's Facebook page. A recent episode of the Police Magazine programme related to hiking safety was broadcast in January 2017, while two video clips on hiking safety were also uploaded to the Police's Facebook page in 2016. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) regularly organises promotional activities to raise awareness on hiking safety, including exhibitions and game booths, at shopping malls and Country Parks Visitor Centres, and disseminates safety message through Television Announcement in the Public Interest, website and pamphlets. The AFCD also sets up information boards and directory signs at suitable locations in country parks to provide trail information and to remind visitors of hiking safety.

(3) The AFCD has given advice to hikers to remind them to use trails that are managed and maintained by the AFCD, as well as promoted Long Distance Trails, Country Trails, Family Walks and Nature Trails through the "Enjoy Hiking" website and mobile application. The mobile application provide information of hiking routes, such as the level of difficulty of the routes, for the reference of hikers by taking into account the length, gradient, surface condition and time required for completing the journey. Individual hikers and hiking groups could make use of the information to plan for a suitable hiking route according to their physical fitness and experience.

     In addition, the Hong Kong Observatory provides weather information, including weather report, forecast and weather warnings (such as tropical cyclone, rainstorm, thunderstorm, cold weather and very hot weather warning signals) through the website, mobile application and various social media platforms. Hikers should pay attention to the updated weather reports and forecast before set-off and during the course of hiking. The hiking activity should be re-routed or called-off if adverse weather is forecasted.

(4) The AFCD has already erected warning signs in areas which are more dangerous and with previous record of severe accidents to alert hikers not to go there. The AFCD will review the measures from time to time, modify the existing warning signs and install additional ones where needed. The AFCD is reviewing and consolidating the relevant information, and will release the relevant information on its website before the hiking season of the year for the reference of hikers in planning their hiking routes.

(5) The Government has arranged training on mountain rescue for relevant disciplined services. We will review from time to time the need for additional training. With regard to the FSD, newly recruited fire personnel receive various types of rescue training, including mountain rescue, during their 26-week foundation training. The FSD also provides advanced rescue training for its serving frontline fire personnel, which includes mountain rescue, road traffic accident rescue, high angle rescue and basic swift water rescue. In addition, the Special Rescue Squad under the FSD has received training in advanced mountain rescue techniques. The FSD has kept its mountain rescue equipment under constant review and arranged overseas mountain rescue training for its personnel. To prepare for mountain rescue operations which are increasingly complicated and take place in high-risk areas, and in light of the rising popularity of mountain activities such as stream hiking, mountain biking and shoreline trekking in recent years, the FSD has set up a Mountain Search and Rescue Team with three search dogs early this year with a view to enhancing its capability in conducting mountain rescue operations. Besides, the CAS will deploy members from the Mountain Search and Rescue Company to attend advanced mountain rescue training in the United Kingdom every two years.
Ends/Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:12
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