Summer camps and programs are prime opportunities for kids to create memories that will last a lifetime. Many of us who had the opportunity to attend camp likely recall the fun of trying new things, going on field trips, being outdoors, and the friends we experienced these times with.
Although the end result is well worth it, planning and organizing a summer camp or program for youth is an intense endeavor. As a camp organizer or director, you are responsible for ensuring a safe environment that will not only allow your attendees to have a positive experience, but also provide your parents with peace of mind that they are well cared for. In addition to safety matters, you need to consider everything from planning activities and formalizing locations, to registration and hiring staff – a list that seems to go on and on!
To help you during this busy planning time, here are 3 safety and emergency preparedness tips for your camp or summer program:
1) Identify a point person responsible for safety
Having an emergency kit and safety procedures are important elements of camp safety, but as this article from the American Camp Association highlights, it’s critical to assign a staff member as a safety expert too. This individual can help create a culture of safety and make it a priority amongst staff, while also focusing on safety in these key areas mentioned in the article:
- Kitchen and food services
- Health and sanitation
- Emergency preparation and management
- Leadership and recommended solutions
- Facilities and grounds management
- Transportation and travel supervision
- Latest activities programs and safety issues
Having a point person accountable ensures that key tasks will be completed, while also providing a point person for other camp employees to connect with on all matters of safety. And to take this a step further, you can consider having a Camp Safety Director who receives formal training at a conference or through distance education programs.
2) Prepare for the unique safety requirements of all activities planned
Your camp or summer program likely offers a variety of activities for participants, ranging from swimming and hiking to archery and crafts. As you plan each activity identify any safety requirements unique to it. Ensure that accredited bodies certify your instructors for each activity and that they have any necessary safety equipment available to them. Here are some safety recommendations for some popular camp activities:
- Swimming – Many summer camps are located near lakes or the ocean, and day programs often include an afternoon at the pool. Although swimming is an enjoyable activity for camp participants, water can pose a threat to their safety if precautions aren’t taken. The Canadian Red Cross and the American Red Cross offer swimming, boating and water safety tips for your camp. Also be sure to check what the requirements are for a certified lifeguard in your area.
- Field Trips – The field trip is often one of the most anticipated activities for campers, and rightfully so! Check that you have any necessary medications or health equipment with you when leaving the camp base. And for any activity, whether it’s go-karting, the petting farm, water slides, rock climbing, or gymnastics, ensure the campers are primed on the safety rules for that site by the corresponding staff team.
- Hiking – Hiking is always a fun way for your camp participants to experience a new area and explore sites. This Hiking Guide for Beginner Hikers offers basic hiking tips: know where you are going and take the necessary gear, including a compass, food and water, and a simplified first aid kit. For more extensive hikes check out the Hiking Safety tips offered by the Yosemite National Park or the hikeSafe website, which provides comprehensive recommendations for the different types of hikes your program may consider.
- Archery – Learning this traditional sport is fun and exciting, as long as instruction is done under strict safety rules to prevent injuries. Here’s a quick list of archery safety tips for your campers, as well as guidelines for waiting lines and shooting lines for your counselors.
- Campfires – A camping favorite, campfires and bonfires are always a hit with kids! Just be sure to set expectations with your participants. They should never run near a campfire, attempt to touch the fire or wood, or wear loose, dangling clothing.
3) Have a comprehensive plan
If an emergency occurs, it’s critical that your plan is ready to implement to care for your participants. First of all, this means you need everyone’s current contact and medical information on hand. This should be done before your camp begins by asking parents or guardians to complete emergency medical and contact forms. Or to reduce administration time and costs, consider implementing a system like ePACT that lets you consolidate all your critical emergency medical forms, waivers and consents into one easy-to-use, online system.
In addition to having current medical and contact information your camp should:
- Encourage participants to build a support network of emergency contacts. These are the people that the camp can reach out to in the event of a crisis.
- Ensure that contact and emergency information is easily accessible during an emergency. Where do you keep your emergency information? Is it legible? Can it be easily accessed or is it locked away in an office? It’s important to take a proactive stance on this issue since having immediate access to emergency information will have a huge effect on your response and support for camp participants.
- Have a way to quickly communicate with all parents, guardians and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency. If you rely on phone calls, you could have to call three or four people for each camper before reaching someone! And what if phone lines are down in a disaster – do you have a back-up plan to reach families? Testing your emergency communications plan can help you identify gaps and determine solutions before an unexpected event!
- Pack an emergency kit. For a camp, this will likely require some space, so look into bins, storage rooms, or closets that are big enough to store these critical supplies, yet still accessible. Also keep an inventory of what you have, and when things expire so they are replaced on time. Dead batteries are no help when you need a flashlight or radio!
The safety of your participants is top of mind as you plan and organize your summer activities, and we hope these tips help you along the way. Happy camping to you, your staff, and your campers!
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