S&TAs

Keith sent me a PM via dropzone.com about Safety & Training Advisors. “Have you given any consideration to modifying the selection process of and expanding the role of S&TA?” Well, till I got that question, no, I hadn’t given much thought to the Safety & Training Advisor (S&TA) program at all, but I’ve done my homework since then. First, I refreshed my memory on how S&TAs are currently chosen (from the Governance Manual, pages 17-18):

A. Safety & Training Advisors

1. The regional director appoints S&TAs and forwards the appointments to headquarters for processing.

a. The appointments should be made in consultation with the drop zone owner-operator, while recognizing that the advisor is a representative of USPA, not the drop zone.
b. The appointment of a DZ owner, operator or employee as the S&TA should occur only if another suitable candidate is not available.
c. The following qualifications are required: (1) be a current USPA member (2) have made a minimum of 50 freefalls within the past 12 months* (3) hold at least an instructor rating* (4) hold a D License (5) be willing to endorse and promote USPA policies (6) attend the regional director’s annual S&TA meeting*
*Items marked with an asterisk may be waived by the regional director. A letter of exception will be included with the appointment forwarded to headquarters. The regional director may appoint himself as an S&TA as long as the minimum requirements are met.

2. The regional director will hold at least one meeting of S&TAs each year to— a. promote uniformity of S&TA activities b. enhance communications between the regional director and the S&TAs and among the S&TAs c. provide a forum to exchange experiences, ideas, and methods of operations d. inform and update S&TAs regarding USPA policies, programs, and administrative procedures

So what we’ve got is a process that is pretty subjective. D license, instructor rating and 50 jumps in the last 12 months. There are a lot of jumpers who fit that bill, but not a lot of them would make good S&TAs. Though the S&TA Handbook says that the RD is supposed to review and reappoint S&TAs annually, a quick glance at the list of S&TAs on the USPA web site indicates that either the RDs aren’t doing a good job of keeping the list current or the USPA staff isn’t, because I saw several associated with closed dropzones and a few associated with dropzones I know they don’t jump at anymore. Makes me wonder how carefully the S&TA’s credentials are being checked, too – are they still current enough on instructing and jumping to be a good S&TA?

Then there’s the S&TA as DZO question. Just glancing down the list there are an awful lot of familiar names on that list that I know to be DZOs. There are probably many more on the list that I don’t know to be DZOs that are DZOs. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t one qualified person (or persons) at each and every dropzone out there other than the DZO, and yet somehow, there are many, many DZO S&TAs.

So with all that background, I’d say yes, we need some change. Here’s some ideas:

At the USPA Level:

  • Require Regional Directors to document the reason for choosing an individual as an S&TA, including documenting how the individual meets the objective requirements outlined in the Governance Manual (licensure, currency, instructional rating), as well as how the RD believes that the person will “be willing to endorse and promote USPA policies.” This is the most subjective of the requirements, and the one that clearly requires the most judgment on the part of the RD; I’d like to see this documented so that the membership can know why the individuals who are supposed to represent USPA on the dropzone were so chosen.
  • Require Regional Directors to document their review of S&TA credentials each year, including licensure, ratings, jump currency, and willingness to serve at the DZ they were originally appointed to serve. If that DZ has closed and/or the jumper no longer actively jumps at that DZ, terminate the S&TA appointment or make the S&TA an “at large” appointment.
  • Require Regional Directors to document their annual S&TA meetings (through submission of meeting minutes to include a list of attendees and non-attendees). S&TAs could be allowed to attend via teleconference, as attendance in person could be cost prohibitive in many regions. Cost of the teleconference could easily be absorbed as part of the RD’s annual travel and expense budget. If an S&TA does not attend an annual meeting for two consecutive years, his or her appointment should be terminated.
  • Review all DZO S&TA appointments to look for an appropriate replacement candidate.

The last one is a nice idea in theory, and leads me to the second part of Keith’s question about expanding the role of the S&TA.

As documented in the S&TA handbook, the S&TA should have a fairly broad role as it is. My observation has been that the S&TA’s role can vary greatly from dropzone to dropzone. At some dropzones, the S&TA has great authority to make the final call on safety issues and is considered the leading authority on the dropzone. At others, the local jumpers would be hard pressed to tell you who the S&TA is and would tell you that the DZO always makes the decisions anyway.

So I think a large part of the role that the S&TA can and will play, now and in the future, depends on the DZ. If the USPA sends a message by eliminating DZO S&TAs, it might send a strong message about the importance of the role that can allow S&TAs to take a greater role. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the individual S&TA to take the role and run with it. I suspect that some can and do find resistance from DZOs, and I suspect that even if the DZO S&TAs are eliminated in favor of “neutral” third-party S&TAs, that we’ll still have many situations where an S&TA feels powerless in the face of a strong DZO.

That, alas, is a culture of safety type of change that isn’t likely to happen overnight, nor is likely to happen because of something USPA does or doesn’t do. But I do think that at least on the surface that pulling DZOs out of the role of S&TA is a good start and that we should clean house on our S&TA list with the new year as we review S&TA appointments.

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