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Overview

All staff members, postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate students or undergraduate students and volunteers must read this document prior to undertaking fieldwork. Fieldwork is defined as any practical work carried out all personnel mentioned above for the purpose of teaching and/or research in places which are or not under, Institution control, but where STRI is responsible for the safety of those exposed to their activities.

Gamboa is 30 kilometers northwest of Panama City on the east bank of the Panama Canal, roughly 40 minutes by car from STRI’s administration building in the Ancon neighborhood of Panama City. This is a Laboratory surrounded by Panama’s Soberania National Park (SNP), 20,000 hectares of intact lowland tropical forest that is a critical biological corridor connecting two continents. https://stri.si.edu/facility/gamboa

Services

Gamboa is home to our amphibian rescue center, insectaries, experimental greenhouses, bat behavior installations, a schoolhouse for field courses and housing for visiting scientists (Building 183).  Our newest laboratory is home to forest ecology and animal behavior programs, which build on decades of discoveries into how tropical ecosystems and their denizens’ function.

Criminal activities in the area

Robberies have been reported; keep your belongings (e.g., money and personal documents) secure and room and laboratory doors locked.  Be aware that El Renacer Penitentiary is less than 2 km from the Gamboa Bridge.  In the unlikely event that you encounter poachers, keep calm and avoid confrontations.

Transport Limitations – The only bus service (SACA) departs from the National Transportation Terminal (in Spanish: Terminal Nacional de Transporte) located at Albrook Mall in Panama City. However, the schedule is not reliable due to the very few buses available. STRI provides a shuttle service for visitors traveling from Tupper to Gamboa / BCI dock. Check with other visitors and coordinators for more details about these options.

Key security recommendations

  • Check with the Scientific Coordinators (Raineldo Urriola, e-mail: urriolar@si.edu 6614-9831 and/or Isis Ochoa ochoai@si.edu Ph. 6729-0436) and your sponsor or supervisor, the conditions of the areas you plan to visit and discuss all the potential emergencies that could encounter (e.g. getting lost, injuries, wildlife attacks, etc.).
  • Inform your estimated departure and return time. Avoid going out in the field alone. Have at least two different means of emergency communication devices (i.e. radio, cell phone, GPS-SPOT device and satellite phones).
  • Carry your STRI ID and your passport or copy of your passport including the page with the entry stamp.
  • Essential safety and survival equipment must always be carried e.g. torches, first aid kit, emergency food supply, maps, whistles, survival bags, etc.

In case of an accident or security incident contact the local authorities and inform your supervisor and STRI emergency phones 212-8911/8211. Consult STRI’s Security Office (212-8025) and ask them about the places you plan to visit and the safest routes to take.

Fieldwork recommendations and requirements

Register each trip in the Field Trip App (FTA) https://stri-apps.si.edu/travellog/index.php . Upon arrival, report your visit to the security guard/caretaker of the area and provide a printed copy of the FTA.  Remember to close the Field Trip App after returning from your trip. If the field trip is not closed at the specific time of return, the system will generate emails in the Control Room, Security, etc. indicating that the person / boat / car has not returned. This will first activate verification with security and emergency response if there is no news from the group.

Aquatic field work – If you need to request a boat, please follow the 3 steps system:

  1. check for availability,
  2. complete the request form and
  3. fill the cruise plan form with all details for your trip.

Terrestrial fieldwork – No one can drive on of the STRI vehicles if is not authorized. Ask to your supervisor about process to request a STRI driver license. Read the STRI vehicle policies.  Be aware that you can only legally drive a vehicle in Panama for up to 90 days after arriving in the country using a foreign-issued driver’s license. For more information contact to VehiclesReservation@si.edu

Aquatic activities

Swimming in the Gatun Lake and the Chagres River is prohibited due to boating activities, the presence of crocodiles and dense aquatic vegetation. Consult with the Gamboa Coordinators for advice on other aquatic activities.

Weather threats and health potential risks

Drinking water – Water at the facilities is generally safe to drink; however, seasonal weather-related conditions might negatively affect its quality. Bring your own water is recommended.

Dangerous Fauna – Consult with the station coordinators about any dangerous fauna that could be encountered close by your work area. Some examples are crocodiles, snakes, felines, African bees and insects that carry tropical diseases.

In the event of snake bites, scorpions, bees, and other situations:

  • Stay calm. (There are cases when the snake bites, but it does not inoculate venom).
  • Avoid unnecessary movements (i.e., Do not walk, nor run, nor do any strenuous movements that will speed your blood circulation).
  • Wash the wound with plain water and cover it with a loose bandage to avoid infection.
  • You will need to get transported by stretcher (if in a remote area) or by ambulance to the nearest public hospital: Hospital Santo Tomás (Panamá 507-5600).

Other potential hazards – Falling trees and branches: If using a chainsaw to clear the road or for work, it represents a high-risk operation. There must be a trained person doing this if necessary. Slips, bruises, sprain and strains, cuts and lacerations, fractures, etc.

Recommendations

  • Anyone walking along roads at night or in poor visibility should wear reflective clothing and carry a rear light.
  • Use flashlight or lanterns at night. Never go alone to the field at nighttime.
  • Hunters (Gamboa/Pipeline Road/SNP) – if you find poachers on your way keep calm and avoid confrontations. Look for the poachers’ physical features (skin color, type of hair, height, accent, scars or tattoos).

Health potential risks – Heat exhaustion: is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating. It’s one of three heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest and heatstroke being the most severe.

Symptoms: Cool, moist skin with goose, bumps when in the heat, Heavy sweating, Faintness, Dizziness, Fatigue, Weak, rapid pulse, Low blood pressure upon standing, Muscle cramps, Nausea, Headache

Prevention:  Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, protect against sunburn, drink plenty of fluids, take extra precautions with certain medications, never leave anyone in a parked car, take it easy during the hottest parts of the day, get acclimated, be cautious if you’re at increased risk

Medical facilities

Panama Province: Hospital Nacional Ph. 207 8100 // 306 3300 or Centro Medico Paitilla Ph 265-8800 or 265-8891. Gamboa Police Station Ph. 314-9314 / Policia Ecologica Ph. 314-9439.

Colon Province: There are two private hospitals:  Hospital 4 Altos Ph. 433-7400 / 433-7419 and the Centro Medico Caribe Ph. 441-4420; and one public hospital (Hospital Amador Guerrero, Ph) near Galeta. For the private hospital attention, you will need to show a valid credit card.

Portable Defibrillation Machine are located at

    • Gamboa School House downstairs next to the First Aid Kit
    • Gamboa 183 Administrative Office # 6
    • Greenhouse
    • Gamboa Laboratory Building 76, Room # 150(mail room) next to Reception area.

Meeting places

(note: secondary meeting place is to be use in the case of primary meeting place is affected by the emergency):

  • For Building 183: Primary meeting place: Parking lot, Secondary meeting place: Playground next to bldg. 183
  • For School house (building 56): Primary meeting place: Rotonda, Secondary meeting place: playground between Civic Center and School House.
  • For Gamboa laboratory Building 76: Primary meeting place: in front of the building, towards the aviaries. Secondary meeting place: In the back of the building, near the gas cylinder house.

Areas of Refuge

    • For Building 183: Internal stairs & Dormitory bathrooms
    • For Schoolhouse (building 56): Internal hallway away from windows (upstairs), Downstairs bathrooms
    • For Gamboa laboratory Building 76: Internal hallway and bathrooms away from windows.

Emergency Information

The Panama Ecological Police are headquartered in Gamboa. They provide support to STRI in the BCI Natural Monument and oversee security in Gamboa. Private guards provide security at the STRI dock , the Plant Physiology Experimental Facility/Greenhouses and lab building 76. Gamboa is also served by a fire station.

  • STRI Headquarters Security Guard Booth 212-8911/212-8211
    (from Gamboa facilities phones dial 28911 or 28211)
  • Incident Commanders
  • Radio Tupper by saying: “garita, Garita, Garita over…” or call for help 212-8911 / 212-8211 or 911if necessary.