Camp Security: Who to Call, What to Ask

Download a June 2012 update of this information.

Many camps are increasing their security measures since the terrorist attacks of 2001. Not only were the attacks on the World Trade Center cause for concern, but the residual effects — and thus the intended effects — of terrorism have caused camp directors to tighten the protective measures around their camps. The threat of Anthrax or other diseases passing through the mail, frequent warnings of potential terrorist activity on holidays, and tight security in airports are all reminders of the new set of concerns we must now live with and protect ourselves from.

Directors who are considering additional security are on the right track. This move can be costly, but if a program assesses its needs with the help of the right professional security firm, it can be more likely to add only those security measures it really needs. Consider your assets and vulnerabilities, the realistic probability of a dangerous occurrence, and your operational, cultural, building code, and cost constraints.

Camp Security Considerations

Each camp will have to research its individual needs and liabilities. The following is a checklist for some of the most important considerations. Assess these on your own or have a security firm or audit agency help you out.

Assess the susceptibility of your campers to threats of kidnapping, international terrorism, domestic terrorism and other dangers. Children of wealthy parents are always a higher risk, but since September 11, Jewish and Muslim campers alike could be in jeopardy. With the help of a professional, consider the threat to your campers. Keep in mind that the Foundation for Jewish Camping maintains that the likelihood of terrorism in camps is still probably lower than the threat of kidnapping by noncustodial parents.
Take stock of your land and location. First, assess your need for fencing, lighting, and telephones or cell phones for emergency calls. If your campus is on a large amount of land, ask your security firm how they can patrol or protect the area, especially in areas that cannot be fenced in or that include hundreds of acres. Review the architectural and environmental layout of your buildings in proximity to one another to determine secure and insecure areas. In addition, consider your camp’s nearness to cities, roads, or heavily forested areas.

Get help designing a protocol for handling visitors. Your protocol for parents, whose visits are probably anticipated, will be different from that for sporadic visitors like delivery people. Some programs require these people to phone the camp before they arrive. One camp hired an off-duty sheriff to greet parents at the camp’s front gate. The director reports that the parents did not complain and surmises that the extra security measure might have made them feel more comfortable about the campers’ safety.
Protocol must also be developed for the acceptance and transfer of luggage, mail, and other parcels. One trend identified was the encouragement of parents to communicate with campers by e-mail, thereby reducing the camp’s risk for tainted mail and care packages. Programs whose campers arrive by airplane have to deal with the handling of luggage in the airport. Contact the airport to create safe and low-hassle methods for transporting campers’ luggage. One camp also has an arrangement with the local airport to allow a staff to accompany campers to the boarding gate. The staff calls campers’ parents when campers board the plane and again when the plane takes off.

Look at the quality of management and control present in your facility, especially in the evenings. Some programs have nighttime officers or guard patrol. Others request that local law enforcement drive by at regular intervals.

Coordinate with local support systems. One camp allows local law enforcement to use their land for training when camp is not in session; this helps officers familiarize themselves with the grounds. The same camp also situated its ball field so as to better serve as a landing pad for the hospital’s Life Flight helicopter.
Help parents feel confident. Tell them about some of the safety measures you have in place, but don’t undermine your security plan by divulging all the information. If you can explain to parents that this will help protect campers, they might be more likely to accept it.

Finding the Right Security Firm

Many security firms claim to specialize in camp security, but select your firm carefully; even these firms don’t always understand the issues specific to camps. Paramount among these is the need to maintain the atmosphere of community and wilderness at camp even as you increase safety measures. Interview several firms and select a professional you have good rapport with, one who either understands camp life or is willing to learn. Watch for firms that want to sell you equipment inappropriate for your camp.

According to Independent Security Specialist Van Ridge, the right security professional for the job will know about facility security and will be able to adjust those principles to camp. In addition, the specialist will focus on your hiring and interviewing techniques, teach you to listen closely and even recognize evidence of deception in a prospective employee’s interview. The best consultants will have experience doing vulnerability assessments and surveys and will look at your facility with the eyes of a perpetrator, considering all the possible ways they might break into your camp or harm your campers, so they might ultimately prevent such occurrences.

What a Security Firm Should Do

A security firm will observe your current security policies and recommend improvements, sometimes without increasing costs. It can be helpful if a key member of the firm has litigation experience, as she may be able to better advise you based on this background.

The firm should assess your current staff. They can determine whether camp staff enforce established policies effectively and consistently. If you have on-site security officers, the firm can determine whether they are working effectively, and whether they are positioned as well in the camp as they can be. A firm will often help you improve the effectiveness of these employees and can supply several kinds of background checks and private detective services to further investigate staff backgrounds.
The firm should assess all of your current policies, from those regarding laundry service to methods of camper transport. They will implement or assess emergency procedures and create a thorough search plan — in case any camper goes missing. In addition, the firm can help you create and carry out staff training on all pertinent security issues.

If your facility has gates, locks, closed circuit television systems, cell phones, security lighting, or any other security items, the firm can evaluate these. They may recommend replacing your current systems or adding improved technology to integrate a variety of security systems. Once in place, your systems should create overlapping barriers to intruders.

A firm should provide a plan for management and long-term administration of your security plan, not just its installment. A blended administration program can call for an in-house security director, outside security officers, and off-duty law enforcement officers.

Specialized security protocol should be established when your facilities are rented to outside parties.

Simple safety should be considered. Although risks of drowning and physical injury are not related to terrorism, a good security firm will double-check these areas when assessing a camp’s security level.

The Cost of Professional Security

You will see extreme variation in the cost of professional security depending on your camp’s needs. Good standing guards cost $15 to $20 an hour on average. A consulting fee might run at about $500, and the continuous cost for security in a high-risk camp could cost $1,000 per week. One program reported spending $25,000 to $30,000 to pay for their consultant and implement an extensive number of recommended measures. If you assess your program carefully, you will avoid paying for amenities you don’t need. Keep in mind, however, that your campers are your greatest asset and liability; if you conclude that your camp is in the high-risk bracket, don’t skimp on security services.

Lessons to be Learned

Public schools have tried to improve school safety through measures other than security. Measures like substituting existing staff in the role of security staff, for example, are often very economical but are ineffective or are less effective than comprehensive security management. Camp directors might be tempted to use low-cost security and ought to learn from the mistakes of the public schools before making such mistakes themselves.

Make a plan and follow it through. A security program will be exponentially less effective if it is not part of a coherent plan, and if the procedures are not consistently followed through. In addition, all staff members need to be thoroughly trained on all procedures. Test and practice emergency preparedness plans that you may have outlined in your manual, but have never used. Hold visitors to policies designed to limit or monitor their access to the grounds, and apply your procedures for property and personnel transfer every time, even though they can be a hassle.

Keep your standards high. Schools tend to make teachers do double-duty as “security monitors,” which is ineffective when staff is poorly trained and supervised. Use local law enforcement, and don’t be afraid to reach beyond the local labor pool if your camp is in a rural or remote area; finding the best possible security staff will be worth your effort.

Don’t underreport accidents out of fear for your camp’s image. Schools often handle breaches in personal conduct or even criminal behavior of staff under the table because they want to avoid a PR debacle. However, this inhibits the ability of other educators, law enforcement, and security providers to offer proper prevention, intervention, and enforcement of security measures. Staff who are allowed to quietly resign can endanger future students because with no criminal background, they are eligible for rehire at other schools. ACA’s Crisis Hotline (317-365-5736) is available to help camp directors talk through crisis situations.

Where to Look for Help


  • The International Association of Professional Security Consultants — The Web site provides referral services. Click on “Educational Forum” to read up on security issues and to find out about upcoming trainings and conferences.
  • The American Society for Industrial Security — The ASIS posts a range of information pertinent for all organizations in need of security. The Web site includes a bookstore, educational resources, and information on seminars. The ASIS 48th Annual Seminar features sessions on terrorism. The Fall Specialized Industry Conference spotlights a Facility Security Design Workshop; the workshop promises to educate participants on establishing a fully integrated security program, complete with anti-terrorism recommendations.
  • The Web site of the ASIS magazine, Security Management — An excellent resource for articles on security, links, and resources to supplement the magazine. The online version of the magazine includes information in Spanish.

Audit Information

  • The Security Audit Shop — This company provides a range of affordable prepackaged security checklists, internal audit plans, and disaster recovery plans.
  • Risk Associates, an informational site — Provides links and resources for assessing security risk, performing security audits, and complying with information security policies.

Homeland Security

    This site has a link to help you find out who your governor has appointed as homeland security contact for your state.

Security Firms

  • Van Ridge Security — e-mail:
  • Howard Services
  • Pankau Consulting
    These firms have indicated experience in camp security. As always, you should interview a variety of security professionals before selecting one.

Originally published in the 2002 Spring issue of The CampLine.

Tags: security

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