When anchor acronyms go bad

When anchor acronyms go bad

There are a lot of anchor acronyms out there in the rigging, rope and rescue world.

A few examples include:

  • SERENE: Solid (or strong), Equalized, Redundant, Efficient, No, Extension
  • ERNEST(A): Equalized, Redundant, No, Extension, Solid (or strong), Timely, (Angles)
  • STRADS: Solid, Timely, Redundant, Angles, Distribution, Shockload

They are all basically variations on the same theme.

Issues with anchor acronyms

  1. They are usually considered rules that you must follow.
  2. The acronyms do not take into account the systems you are using, the type of pursuit you are in and the context/environment of your application.
  3. When you go past your initial stages of learning, acronyms are not useful and not how we naturally operate.

For example

For example, say you had a large tree at the top of a cliff you were about to abseil from. You put one sling around the tree, with one carabiner, one rope, one knot, onto one abseil device with one carabiner onto one sit harness, with one person. This would fail the acronym at redundant. From a system point of view, I would consider this system to be safe. To meet the rules you might put in a small piece of rock protection to back up the large tree however by the time you do this you might have broken the rule of timely/efficiency.

Applying anchor acronyms in the real world

So what happens in the real world when you come to apply your anchor acronym is that you often break the rules so you can get the job done. It doesn’t mean you are unsafe, it just means you have moved past the rules in your practice.

Rather than treating the acronyms as rules, how about we call them guidelines. Take the stigma away from whatever acronym you use and create a culture of conversation and not one of rule breaking.

Having a much more open culture when it comes to anchors allows us to apply what works and at the same time is safe.

Don’t overthink it

Rather saying an outright no, we need to understand what we have got. Once we have learned the anchor style and the pros and cons, our brain will naturally process this and come up with the right solution. The key thing is not letting our conscious brain get in the road of good decision making by having to follow an acronym.

Then, considering the system, the pursuit, the environment and the application you will come to a decision: use the anchor, modify the anchor or find something else. When it comes to anchors I don’t view my anchor in isolation to the rest of the system, so I don’t use a rule-based acronym when assessing it.

There is a large tree. It’s not going to fail. I don’t need to back it up to make the system redundant.

So how do you teach this?

That’s the great thing. You don’t need to as it is a more naturally based way of operating that we do anyway. We take everything into account and then build a suitable anchor.

Teach people how to think rather than follow a rule.

Use acronyms as conversation starters and considerations. As each rigging site and pursuit are going to be different we need to keep our minds open to how we rig. There is no perfect anchor system that will work for all locations that meet all of your anchor acronyms at once in all situations. This will depend on your risk priority.

Use situational awareness to take in all the information you need to build suitable anchors.

Final thoughts

Whatever anchor acronym you use, consider; is it serving you and your organisation or are you serving it?

Could you change your thought process to ‘things to discuss’ rather than ‘rules to follow’?

Check out the Rope Rescue and Rigging Guide

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