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Professional Ranger — Spring 2012

Administration

Year of the Dragon, Year of Change for Admin! — I know that 2012 in the Chinese zodiac is the Year of the Dragon, and when you think of a dragon it certainly demands attention and respect. The changes coming this year in Administration will have us sitting up and paying attention.

  • Pathways guidelines: April is when we expect to have the guidelines from the Office of Personnel Management. You may recall that OPM has introduced a new program called Pathways, which consolidates programs for recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates and will replace the current Student Temporary Employment Program and the Student Career Experience Program employment programs. We have been told that the new guidelines will allow for the grandfathering in of existing students on the rolls as of April 1, 2012. Any new student hires after April 1 will need to meet the guidelines set forth in the new issued policy. Visit the link for more information about Pathways here. Another link to the executive order is here.

  • New budget program: We are less than nine months away from fully deploying a new budget program across the NPS (target go-live date is November). All the budget , finance, and contracting staff across the service are preparing to migrate over to the Financial and Business Management System, or FBMS, this fall to join our six sister agencies in the Department of the Interior already using it. There is a lot of data cleanup happening to get us ready for transitioning to the new program. New terminology is relayed to us through memos and newsletters. Words such as “deployment,” “data cleansing,” “master data structure” and “role mapping” are becoming the new buzz words. If your finance staff is looking a little dazed and confused, it is likely they have finished another teleconference call regarding FBMS. New ways of doing requisitions and fleet management are also coming with the implementation of this new program.

  • MABO and SHRO transitions: The streamlining of Contracting and Human Resources has not been pain-free but is starting to realize some efficiencies and organizational effectiveness. Most parks have transitioned the supervision of MABO (Major Acquisition Buying Offices) and SHRO (Servicing Human Resource Offices) staff to their respective organizational leads this year. This action has left some administrative officers with fewer staff to directly supervise and a new obligation to ensure park operational needs are still met and balanced with SHRO and MABO workloads. With parks still hosting these positions but not directing the workload has been an adjustment. Communication remains key to keeping everyone involved, informed and connected to the parks.

As the Year of the Dragon progresses, those of us in administration must be hopeful and embrace these new changes. It is said that “the Chinese Year of the Dragon person” stands out. There is a certain aura about them. If this person is compared to the changes coming in administration then it might be said both are certainly not shy — they demand attention and respect.

— Michelle Torok, Saguaro

Interpretation

Advanced Knowledge of the Audience
“For remember, the visitor is ultimately seeing things through his own eyes, not those of the interpreter, and he is forever and finally translating your words as best he can into whatever he can refer to his own intimate knowledge and experience.”
— Freeman Tilden

Most interpreters are familiar with the Interpretive Equation: (KR+KA)AT=IO where Knowledge of the Resource (KR) added to Knowledge of the Audience (KA) and multiplied by an Appropriate Technique (AT) results in an Interpretive Opportunity (IO). The equation is universal and applies to all types of interpretive programs.

In order for the Interpretive Opportunity to be the most effective, each component (KR, KA, AT) of the equation requires an equal amount of attention by the interpreter. Do you actually spend an equal amount of attention to each component when you apply the equation to program planning, development, and review? In my own experience as both an interpreter and as a supervisor, KR gets the most attention followed by AT with KA getting the least attention usually as a brief afterthought.

What is Knowledge of the Audience? Is the answer simply a matter of asking your audience what they want to hear from you? Or is it as simple as knowing if your audience is young or old? These are important aspects of establishing knowledge in this component but human nature and biology is complex. For example, if you are leading an interpretive fossil walk (known as a Conducted Activity in IDP jargon), where you’re explaining how the science of paleontology dovetails with geologic “deep time” and evolutionary biology, does knowing that perhaps as much as 57 percent of your audience believes creationism explains the record of life on earth influence how you plan and develop your program? In this case, do you have knowledge about how your audience’s brains differentiate between belief and reason? The latest findings in cognitive neuroscience might offer insights.

If during a stop in your fossil walk where an interpretive explanation for geologic “deep time” is shared, you notice a couple of people in your audience fold their arms across their chests and another person in the audience begins stroking their chin, do you have the knowledge to understand these body language gestures?

Yes, perhaps the people with the folded arms are cold, and yes, maybe the person stroking his chin has an itch. As an interpreter, wouldn’t it be valuable knowledge of your audience to understand that research in human body language reveals that of the verbal and non-verbal cues expressed by your audience, 7 percent is verbal (words only), 38 percent is vocal (voice tone and inflection) and 55 percent is non-verbal? Good interpreters have an obligation to know this in order to be effective.

As interpreters, if we are not discussing the impact of cognitive neuroscience, human body language research, and other aspects comprising an Advanced Knowledge of the Audience, then our programs are not as effective as we might think.

I recommend that before a new interpreter begins developing programs, they demonstrate a thorough understanding of human nature and biology. In this way, KA will start getting the attention it deserves.

— Pete Peterson, Grand Canyon

Protection

Strength to carry on — The National Park Service almost made it 10 years without having to endure a line-of-duty murder. During a four-year span between 1998 and 2002, we suffered the almost unendurable loss of three rangers to line-of-duty murders.

Ranger Joe Kolodski was murdered June 21, 1998, (Father’s Day) on North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway while protecting visitors from a gunman at Big Witch Gap.

A year and a half later, Steve Makuakne-Jarrell was murdered Dec. 12, 1999, by a vagrant with a dog off leash along the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau on the island of Hawai`i.

Ranger Kristopher Eggle was murdered Aug. 9, 2002, in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus while trying to apprehend a Mexican gunman/drug runner who had just executed four people in Mexico and fled into the United States.

Just hours later, Hakim Farthing of the United States Park Police was run down by a drunk driver during the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 2002, on the Baltimore-Washington Memorial Parkway while investigating the scene of a previous fatal crash.

Then came almost 10 years of no felonious line-of-duty deaths. That’s not to say the NPS didn’t lose employees. We lost too many to motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes, backcountry falls, heart attacks, falling rocks and falling trees. But no one was murdered on duty for a span of nine and a half years between August 2002 and December 2011.

On New Year’s Day a cowardly murderer took from us another of our finest. Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot twice by a gunman with a high-powered rifle between Longmire and Paradise in Washington state’s Mount Rainier. (See related article on page 14.) She had responded to a fellow ranger’s call and deliberately placed herself between park visitors and what her father called “the evil coming up the mountain.” She did so knowing the hazards of her calling, and she did so, to borrow the universal search-and-rescue motto, “that others may live.”

In the aftermath of Margaret Anderson’s murder, her immediate family members, including her husband, Eric, also a park ranger, and her wider NPS family received an outpouring rush of condolences on a national scale. Every American flag at every NPS site was flown at half staff to honor Margaret. Every employee wearing a badge or a shield over his or her heart placed a black mourning band around it for the month of January. We did this so that visitors might ask us what it means, thus opening an opportunity to hold an honest, if difficult, conversation about the loss of one of our own.

The wearing of a mourning band is a symbolic police tradition to honor our fallen brothers and sisters. The NPS has done well to recognize this etiquette for most of the line-of-duty deaths we’ve suffered, including Margaret’s. We also did more: we honored her in two distinct ways never before done.

First, we made the viewing of her memorial service available to all parks with TelNet capability. This seemingly simple effort played a pivotal role in helping Margaret’s fellow employees grieve together and honor her. Like many others, I was not able to attend her memorial service but I did watch its entirety via the broadcast. I’ll never forget sitting in that room alongside my fellow rangers, chief ranger and superintendent, paying our respects to her. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The other honor occurred minutes before the start of the memorial service. We conducted a “last call” over the radio nationwide. From Acadia to Haleakala, from Biscayne to Denali, NPS personnel stood at the base of their half-staff flag pole, in all weathers, faced northwest (for most of us) toward Rainier, faced Margaret as she lay in her casket, rendered proper salute and listened as a dispatcher attempted to reach her over the radio:

“Mount Rainier 741, Dispatch.

“Mount Rainier 741, Dispatch.

“No contact with Mount Rainier 741.

“Mount Rainier 741 is out of service.

“Gone but not forgotten. Rest in peace.”

We then ordered arms, observed a moment of silence and filed into the TelNet room for her memorial service.

In 19 years of NPS service, three spent on the NPS Ranger Honor Guard through too many line-of-duty deaths, I have never been more proud of the way the NPS honored one of its rangers. A nationwide last radio call is truly an honor for any fallen officer.

Earlier, I described these losses as “almost unendurable.” Almost because, though each pierced us squarely in our collective NPS heart, none stopped us from continuing to hope and to care and to perform our noble work. In our nationwide response of support, compassion and love, we suffered through this most recent horrific loss, as we did the ones that came before, with grace and courage. As a service and a family, we honored Margaret by continuing with our mission. We did endure.

Mount Rainier superintendent Randy King, in his expression of gratitude to the NPS family, summed it up best: “In honoring Margaret and through acts of compassion, you have also honored the NPS and given us strength to carry on.”

— Kevin Moses, Buffalo National River

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