Urban explorers risk injury, arrest for social media fame

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Two popular hobbies – one pursued in the real, physical world and one practiced in the virtual, digital world – converged in Watab Township last week.

For years, adventurers have found excitement as urban explorers – roaming through abandoned buildings, caves and tunnels.

Media attention and technology popularized and glamorized the activity fueling increased interest. Recent television shows such as Discovery Channel’s “Urban Explorers,” MTV’s “Fear” and “Ghost Hunters” dramatically documented seemingly forbidden missions.

The dangerous pastime has taken a modern twist with increased use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. And with high-quality, low-cost digital gadgets such as GoPros, attention-seeking explorers easily share their antics.

An urban exploring adventure did not end well for five Benton County teenagers. On March 23, they were arrested in Bend in the River Park.

Sheriff Troy Heck shares this account:

At about 6:45 p.m., a witness reported several teenagers entering a locked building after smashing a window. Benton County deputies and police officers from Rice and Royalton arrived. They found three 17-year-old boys, a 16-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl inside the building.

Deputies learned the five arrived at the park together to take photos.

One of the boys decided it would be a good idea to break a window and all five entered the building.

One of the crew told deputies they wanted to take photographs of themselves inside the building.

Deputies released the crew to their parents, but they were not, as we say these days, totally exonerated. The sheriff’s office forwarded details of the incident to the county attorney seeking burglary and trespassing charges on all five.

“This incident appears to be another in an ongoing trend among area teens that involves trespassing into empty or abandoned buildings to document their presence inside the building and then share their acts on social media,” Heck wrote in a press release on the incident. “While these acts of trespass and burglary are illegal, they can also be quite dangerous as these unoccupied buildings may house unknown hazards.”

The thrill of exploring abandoned or unoccupied space and sharing details of the adventure on social media seems to be fun that’s too good to pass up.

But in addition to creating a criminal record, explorers could end up in the emergency room or worse after stumbling down decaying stairs, falling through a deteriorated floor or breathing toxic air.

Many structures feature hazards such as unstable structures, unsafe floors, asbestos, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, exposed electrical wires and entrapment hazards.

Asbestos is a long-term health risk for urban explorers, along with breathing in other contaminants such as dried bird feces.

A Google search quickly finds urban explorers freely share advice online on how to avoid the hazards and carry on more safely. But a quick Google search also turns up stories of explorers falling to their deaths or finding themselves trapped in an unmarked cavity.

Instead of seeking tips and tricks for safe urban exploring, a wiser move would be to seek adventure in a park or along a trail. Those locales present plenty of places for dramatic photos,  the air is much better and there usually aren’t deputies waiting to arrest you at the end of the trail.

Author: Mike Knaak

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