Years ago I had the pleasure of working for Rev. Richard Chamberlain, Director of Camp Merrowvista (an American Youth Foundation Camp) in Ossipee, N.H.
One of my early values in camp management came from Dick (a former President of the American Camping Association), who shared with me (and others) that he never stopped being concerned about camper safety until the season was over and the campers had all left for home.
When camp was over, one significant way Dick would measure a successful season was directly related to the camp’s overall ability to maintain a safe environment for the campers.
I truly admired Dick Chamberlain as a camp director, because of, among other things, his ability to advance the importance of camper safety to the staff.
He gave staff ownership in both policy development and implementation regarding the safety of the camp environment.
And, although there are technologies available now that can enhance camper safety (in ways we did not have back in the late ’60s and early ’70s); it is still up to the director and staff to insure that campers experience a truly safe environment. Therefore, safety risk management remains a significant factor in the overall operation of well-run camp!
Understand the Risk
Risk managing camper safety in a camp environment can be considered in three key ways: Campus safety, camp program participant/spectator safety and personal safety.
Campus safety: Risk managing the campus environment to insure camper safety. This aspect of camper safety includes such challenges as:
• Controlling all access to the campus
• Preventing unauthorized visitors on campus
• Managing authorized visitors on campus
• Managing movement of campers about the campus
• Establishing clear protocols for campus-related emergencies, like fire, severe weather, evacuation or local/regional/national crisis
Camp program participant/spectator safety: Risk managing the variety of programmatic risks related to camper activities and venues. This area of consideration includes such challenges as:
• Providing appropriate activities, instruction and supervision
• Maintaining safe venues (facilities and other activity spaces), including the range of risks related to activity programming, such as chemical exposure (photography), sports injury, wounds from archery and/or riflery, travel in camp vehicles, etc.
• Maintaining safe activity-related equipment including the range of risks related to ropes courses, gymnastics tumbling and apparatus, computer internet access controls, etc.
Personal safety: Risk managing the personal experience for each camper in a manner where they feel and remain safe within the camp environment. This area of consideration includes such challenges as:
• Preventing camper abduction or kidnapping by strangers or by an unauthorized relative or friend
• Preventing intentional or random acts of violence
• Managing the risk of abuse, molestation, or rape
• Risk managing the misuse/abuse of medications and/or controlled substances
Each of these safety risk management considerations is important, and deserving of attention. However, to better address the purpose of this article, I intend to focus on campus safety: Risk managing the campus environment to insure camper safety.
Focusing on this one key concern should facilitate the introduction of a seven-step process for risk managing all areas of consideration related to camper safety in a camp environment.
The following seven-step process is recommended for use by camp directors and their staff, with the goal that the campus will remain a safe environment for campers.
This process can be implemented by a select group of experienced staff and/or by all the camp staff (thereby creating staff ownership in the camp’s safety risk management, policy development and implementation). Note: the same seven-step process can be utilized to address other safety risk management issues identified (or not identified) in this article.
Campus safety: Managing the campus environment to insure camper safety.
In recent years, a major concern regarding campus safety has focused on controlling access to the camp by authorized and unauthorized visitors.
Once on the campus, any visitor, especially if unnoticed, can cause serious and perhaps irreversible harm. What must not be ignored by the camp director and staff is the unimaginable.
In other words, the best way to manage the risks related to campus access and visitors (authorized or unauthorized) is to consider and address every possible way that any visitor might gain access to the camp. This risk management concept relates directly to the legal responsibility (duty owned to the campers and the visitors) of the camp director and staff to consider the range of risks that are foreseeable.
Failure to address reasonable foreseeable risks can in a civil trial (in court) imply a failure to perform a duty owed.
If that failure to perform a duty owed, caused harm, the court will likely award a plaintiff damages. And, although the legal outcome may seem hard to bear, undoubtedly the memory/experience of such a failure is not easily forgotten by those most responsible.
The three risks listed below are inter-related, so in the seven-step process example they are addressed together as appropriate:
• Controlling all access to the campus
• Preventing unauthorized visitors on campus
• Managing authorized visitors on campus
Step One: Conduct a safety risk assessment of the campus with regard to all access points. Consider all normal routes of access, like roads, walkways, boat docks, etc., and those routes that are less obvious but perhaps more difficult to manage, like a published hiking trail through the woods, an isolated spot where one might beach a canoe, and so on.
Use your campus map (the larger and more detailed the better) and consider every access point about (or within) the campus perimeter.
Some camps are sited on water that provides for public access (lakes, rivers, etc.). These camps would also want to consider the shoreline as a potential access point for unauthorized visitors.
And, along with the identification of campus access points the staff should consider specific safety risks that authorized and unauthorized visitors might impose on camper safety.
Outcome (Step One): a comprehensive listing of all potential campus access points and a comprehensive listing of safety risks that may be caused by authorized and unauthorized visitors when on campus.
Step Two: For each access point identified in your safety risk assessment of the campus, identify several possible means to manage the access risk. For instance, you might manage the main entrance road to camp with a “gatekeeper” in a very visible location, such as at a gatehouse adjacent the main entrance road.
The location would be well-lighted at night, might have a mechanical means to actually prohibit access until it has been granted and the gatehouse would provide the gatekeeper with protection from the weather, a telephone for emergency, and perhaps even an alarm system.
Also, for each risk identified in your safety risk assessment of authorized and unauthorized visitors on campus, the staff should propose several possible methods for managing these risks.
For example, authorized visitors should really be “authorized” to visit the camp before they visit. This means that visitors are expected to gain authorization with the camp’s office staff (by calling ahead or through a pre-registration process for a visitor’s day), or at the gatekeeper’s checkpoint, etc. Each visitor might be required to wear a clearly recognizable badge or nametag that denotes that they have been “authorized to visit the campus” when they are on the campus.
Authorized visitors should be asked to sign-in when they arrive at the camp and sign-out when they leave. Authorized visitors should be allowed on the campus during specified times (on designated visitor days or evenings) and the camp should consider maintaining time limits on camp visitation.
Obviously, these policies are for general implementation. Exceptions to any visitation policy should be rare and managed only at the discretion of the director.
Unfortunately, few events in a camper’s life make them more homesick than a visit from a family member or friend who will go home when they leave the campus.
Clearly, if a visitor is authorized, they are expected to comply with camp regulations. Therefore, if a visitor is on campus and they are either not authorized or they are not following regulations, they become “unauthorized visitors” and can be arrested for trespassing.
Ultimately, camps should work very closely with local authorities to establish specific protocols for managing trespassers who have been identified by the staff (see also Steps Three and Four).
Outcome (Step Two): For each access point from the safety risk assessment of the campus, several means to manage the safety risks will be identified. Additionally, for each safety risk an authorized or unauthorized visitor imposes, there should be several means identified to manage these risks.
Step Three: Begin to create common strategies that manage one or more access points in either the same manner or from a common location.
For example, the shoreline might be identified as a series of potential internal access points. However, it may be possible to supervise the entire shoreline from one or two points using a videocam technology (see Security: Welcome to 2004, by Shellie Santay Visinski, Camp Business, May/June 2004) thereby limiting the need to utilize an excessive number of staff to police the shoreline.
Other strategies for the shoreline would include No Trespassing signage that is clearly visible from the water, shoreline lighting that provides reasonable deterrent illumination at night and shoreline landscaping that deters or prohibits access, except at certain points where the shoreline is monitored.
Also, create strategies that manage all types of camp visitors in appropriate ways. For instance, agents who make deliveries may not be accepted unless they have called ahead and/or they follow a regular delivery pattern (mail, food, supplies, etc.).
All authorized visitors are to be held to the same regulations, and all unauthorized visitors are to be managed in a consistent manner (see also Steps Two and Four).
Outcome (Step Three): Responding to the charge to create common strategies, the staff will establish two complete sets of strategies to address the safety risks of access and the safety risks of visitors.
Maintain an additional list of safety risks that offer unique or individual challenges that are not easily or adequately addressed by your common strategies for both campus access and visitors.
Step Four: Analyzing the lists created in Step Three, develop comprehensive safety risk management plans that address all aspects of campus safety.
Where common strategies can be used, they may be given a logical priority in the creation and implementation of a comprehensive master plan (Step Four) and in the implementation of a comprehensive master plan (Step Five).
However, regardless of the challenge, every identified safety risk must be made manageable in these plans. From these individual comprehensive safety risk management plans, camp policies and protocols should be detailed.
For instance, now that you have identified all the camp’s access points and created a listing of individual means and common strategies to manage the access points, the staff needs to determine through analysis and prioritization the best way to successfully meet these means and strategies.
Whereas implementation costs will often become a factor of prioritization, camps should always consider any additional costs as an investment into the operation. Frankly, if the camp cannot afford to maintain a safe environment for campers, it is time to close.
Outcomes (Step Four): Out of the work from Step Four the staff will have a number of comprehensive plans related to each of the key safety risk management considerations: Campus safety, camp program participant/spectator safety and personal safety.
Step Five: Create a comprehensive master plan for safety risk management that thoroughly and completely addresses all identified aspects of camper safety in the camp environment.
Outcomes (Step Five): The camp will now own a master document that will support all aspects of camper safety in the camp environment. This is where the planning and policy development phase ends and it’s time to apply the plan.
Step Six: Implement the comprehensive master plan for safety risk management, thereby managing all key concerns in camper safety in the camp environment.
Outcomes (Step Six): The implementation of the comprehensive master plan for safety risk management should successfully assist the camp with meeting its organizational priorities regarding camper safety and quality camper experiences.
Step Seven: Evaluate and update all aspects of the implementation of the comprehensive master plan for safety risk management.
Utilize survey tools and other appropriate means to gather input and information related to the camper safety. The evaluation and update should reflect on critical changes and associated risks to organized camping/society, including changes in law, legal precedent and standard of care.
Outcomes (Step Seven): An annual evaluation and update of your comprehensive master plan for safety risk management will help insure a successful camp operation. It will also have the potential to positively impact the quality of the camp experience for everyone associated with the organization.
Providing campers with an environment that is safe and secure demonstrates to parents and guardians how truly important you believe their campers are. And, developing ownership among the staff so that everyone pays attention to camper safety will help ensure camper experiences that remain as wonderful memories, throughout their lifetime.
Dr. Richard J. LaRue is Chair of Exercise and Sport Performance, University of New England.