Risk Management: Security at Camp

by Ed Schirick
Download a June 2012 update of this information.

Security has always been a concern at camps across the country. But with the violent events that have been in the news in the last year, there is heightened concern about this issue.

As we approach another summer, you can expect parents to have continuing concerns about the safety and security of their children. Now is the time to review and update your camp's risk management plan. This is especially important if you have not examined your plans in the last couple of years.

There are at least ten security risks that deserve review and updating in your risk management plan, including:

  • prevention of abduction or kidnapping of a counselor or camper either by a stranger or an estranged relative
  • prevention of violence from a random act or hate group
  • protection against an unauthorized person on camp property such as a trespasser or stalker
  • managing the risk of molestation or rape of a camper or counselor
  • managing medications and keeping them safe from misuse and abuse, especially controlled substances
  • emergency evacuation for weather, as well as orders from civil authorities
  • crisis response plan
  • Internet use policy to keep campers safe in cyberspace
  • weapons policy
  • missing camper(s) left on a bus

This list is not complete. Think about your camp facilities and operation and identify other risks specific to your camp that should be added to this list. Security risk factors for day camps are different than for resident camps. Rural areas present different circumstances and security risks than the suburbs. Enlist your key staff in the risk-identification process. Make a complete list. Don't eliminate anything at first. You want to brainstorm this issue and consider all of the possibilities.

Following are some thoughts about dealing with the security risks identified earlier. Recognize there is more than one way to manage these risks, and there is no right answer. You must consider all of the possible solutions.

Tips for Preventing Abduction

Camp directors must manage the risk of kidnapping or abduction aggressively not only for reasons of liability but for the welfare of the child. Day camps have a somewhat greater exposure to this risk, because of the number of parents and other adults who are on the camp premises during the day. Their exposure is similar to schools in this regard.

To ease this risk, consider requiring staff to wear camp shirts and name badges so that campers and parents can easily identify them. Some security experts recommend photo identification cards for camp staff.

Late drop off and early dismissal for day camps should be conducted through the camp office. Persons picking up campers for early dismissal should present photo identification to the office staff and be asked to sign the camper out in a log book. Persons other than parents or legal guardians asked to pick up a camper should have their names on file in the camp office as authorized persons. Permission for these individuals should be obtained in writing from the parent or legal guardian.

Consider a visitor policy which would require every visitor, including vendors, delivery drivers, and others to register at the office and pick up a visitor badge. Instruct staff to stop and question any non-camper without a visitor badge. When their business is concluded, the visitor would be expected to sign out and leave the visitor badge at the office.

On trips out of camp, have campers wear bracelets with the camp name, address, and telephone number in case they become separated or lost. Also put the name of the counselor leading the trip on the bracelet. This may be especially useful in places such as amusement parks and malls with paging systems that can alert counselors of separated campers.

Securing the Camp Property

Some camps have a counselor on duty at a gate or gate house equipped with a two-way radio. Other camps have hired security firms to do this work in the evening at the front entrance, and patrol the premises all night.

Improving the lighting in key areas around cabins, dining halls, garage, and maintenance areas helps to reduce the risk of intruders. Some camps have begun to put simple "hook-and-eye" locks on the inside of cabin doors to thwart unauthorized persons from entering at night while campers are asleep.

Your local or state police can be of great help. Seek their recommendations for improving security on your property. In addition, ask the police about the activities of hate groups in your area. Don't hesitate to report suspicious people directly to them. Be a good communicator about your concerns and seek their help promptly if you think you or your camp could be in any possible danger.

Other Security Concerns

Proper use and storage of medications can be a concern for camps. Make sure all medications are properly protected while campers are in camp and on trips. Identify the kind of medications international staff and campers are bringing with them to camp. Often this medication is not approved by the FDA, and physicians in our country are unfamiliar with the drug and possible interactions with other drugs routinely prescribed here. This is both a health and security issue.

If you are using computers at camp, consider establishing an Internet use policy for campers and staff. Include the policy in your staff manual and make sure staff are familiar with it. Put appropriate protective software on computers used by campers to restrict their access to certain Internet sites. Some of the threats of violence at schools last year were received over the Internet. Establish a policy for handling any such threats and make sure staff and campers know what to do if they receive such a threat.

Security is the result of planning and the establishment of a controlled environment. This doesn't mean you have to create a bureaucratic environment where all the fun and spontaneity is removed. You must be smart and be aware. Take the time to get organized now.

Originally published in the 2000 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.