Staying on Top of Camp Health and Safety Resources

Risk Management

by Linda Ebner Erceg, R.N., M.S., P.H.N.

With the advent of another summer camp season comes the quest to review and update various processes. One of these pertains to your camp’s health and safety profile. The purpose of this article is to bring both new and redefined information to your attention, information that may help your campers and staff have a healthier camp experience while also expanding the repertoire of resources at your fingertips.

ACA Health Forms

Updated over a year ago and available online to American Camp Association (ACA) members through the ACA Bookstore,, the number of health forms has expanded beyond the basic Health History form. To begin with, there are separate health history forms for campers and staff. This reflects the difference in a camp’s responsibility to these groups of people. As clients, the focus of camper health care is to enable them to return to the program in which they’ve enrolled. Health care for staff focuses on returning them to work, to the job for which they’ve been hired. Both groups certainly get good health care but by providing a staff health history form that comes from an occupational health perspective, a camp more clearly communicates the focus for staff. There are other health forms available online, such as one for adult campers, one requesting a camper’s asthma plan, and another for short-term campers. Some of these can be downloaded for customization, thus improving a camp’s ability to focus on information germane to its needs. The forms were developed by ACA with the help of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Camp Nurses.

Crisis Response Planning

From a different perspective, one shaped by the country’s preparedness initiative, comes the necessity for camp professionals to participate in the broader U.S. preparedness planning process. There has been marked progress within U.S. society in preparedness. Yet many camp emergency response plans have failed to integrate this within their own plans. Should a crisis beyond the border of camp occur, a camp might find itself vying for access to local resources with other entities. Consequently, there’s a need for camps to interface much more intentionally with the broader community’s response plans. A tool called the National Incident Management System (NIMS) is available to do this. Originally developed as a corrective response to the problems that surfaced when responding to the 9-11 crisis, NIMS is a system that gives all responders — fire, law enforcement, EMS, and the general public — a framework for working together. NIMS training teaches this framework and provides a common language so responders from all disciplines can effectively interface. Camp professionals can complete an interactive Web-based introduction to NIMS through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute at EMIWeb/IS/IS100a.asp. Another option may be to take a locally provided training (ask your local law enforcement office about this).

Having basic knowledge about NIMS enables a camp professional to talk with local and regional preparedness planners in an effort to (a) educate external planners to camp needs and (b) provide direction to what support a camp might bring to the table. Yes, this means getting more active with a camp’s local community, but this activity may make a significant difference between having something “imposed” on a camp during a crisis rather than integrated into camp systems. There’s training beyond NIMS IS-100 for those with greater interest or need. The courses available for independent study are available at

If your camp has basic preparedness in hand, consider using Table Top exercises to hone the skills of your key staff. Table Top exercises allow one to simulate a crisis and move staff through the process of responding. The scenario is typically followed by debriefing, the process that identifies both what went well and where improvements are needed. To get started with running your own Table Top, visit Web sites such as “Table Tops: Three Simply Scenarios,” a Web site provided to the business community at Other options are available by putting "Table Top Scenarios" into your favorite browser.

While NIMS brings the camp world more in line with U.S. preparedness, revision of books such as Connie Coutellier’s Risk and Crisis Management Planning (2008) focus more specifically on the camp world. This manual, a combination of written information and workbook format, includes updated content on topics such as bullying and a host of worksheets that reflect information learned from recent camp crises. Supported by a CD of the worksheets, Coutellier’s book facilitates work done on this topic by an individual or a camp leadership team.

Crisis Communications Weathering the Storm: A Handbook for Camps and Other Youth Programs by Marla Coleman and Jessica Coleman is another resource. This new handbook available for purchase at, provides the necessary steps and the resources to create a communications system for your camp, along with training tips to help you put your plans in action.

General Camp Health and Wellness

Camps affiliated with the Healthy Camp research already know of ACA’s e-Institute, an online learning option that currently delivers four health-related courses, one about communicable disease control; another about knife safety (particularly knives used in food preparation); a third about wearing appropriate footwear; and a final program specific to use of protective equipment. More courses will be developed as data indicates need, so it’s worth bookmarking this page and continuing to monitor it (

In addition, the Healthy Camp Study provides participating camps with an annual summary of the camp’s injuryillness profile. While allowing the camp to compare itself to national trends, this report more importantly enables a camp to probe the factors that surround its own injury-illness profile. For example, some camps have discovered that more injuries occur during discrete times of day. Because the camp knows what’s going on during that time, the camp can specifically look at context and make a determination regarding improvement and track the impact of any changes through future summative reports.

Camps, both ACA accredited and nonaccredited, may still enroll in the study; information about doing so is online at reduce_injury_illness.php. A group of camp and affiliated professionals annually examines the national dataset to discover what is going well as well as what should be addressed. The study recently introduced examination of fatigue, a component that anecdotally appears to impact health in many ways and will be more intentionally assessed during the summer of 2009.

Other resources pertaining to a camp’s general health and wellness include the following:

  • A poster, What Do I Need to Stay Healthy at Camp? — This brightly colored, camper-friendly, 24” x 40” poster reinforces health promotion messages for self-care, appropriate footwear, sun and insect protection, hydration, good nutrition, and other topics. It’s available from the Association of Camp Nurses online at
  • The video, Why Don’t We Do It In Our Sleeves? — Used in a Healthy Camp module, the video is available online (to purchase and/or to view) at and will change the way campers and staff deal with their coughs and sneezes. This same Web site provides access to another video, Soap in the City, a video that teaches the importance of hand washing through the story of Typhoid Mary.
  • SunWise — developed by the EPA, this program targets school-aged children (K-8) and teaches sun protective behaviors. A host of resources is available online at, including the option for a camp to sign up for a free resource kit. This program, which is also available in Spanish, would make a great contribution to a camp’s environmental and/or camp craft program.

Updates for the Health Center

As campers and staff travel the world, they may present with unusual symptoms at the health center. Since health center staff often focus on the things they know, they may neglect asking about where the person has traveled and/or lived during the past academic year. This question should be built into the assessment process. Follow it up by accessing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Web site, specifically the Traveler’s Health site (www.cdc. gov/travel/default.aspx). There’s a search option on this page that allows one to insert a country and then see comments about relevant health information.

This CDC resource was complemented by the recent revision of the American Public Health Association’s Control of Communicable Diseases Manual (D. Heymann [Ed], 2008). Covering topics from the common cold and conjunctivitis to Ebola, this book tells how a particular disease is transmitted, how to confine an outbreak, how to treat diagnosed people, how long the period of communicability lasts, and more. When wondering how to manage a head lice situation or Norwalk virus outbreak, this reference is invaluable.

The second edition of Erceg and Pravda’s The Basics of Camp Nursing is also available. With more sample forms, content specific to resident and day camps, and updated content, the book complements ACA standards while describing general camp nursing processes. The authors also inserted stronger messages about how the camp nurse works effectively with camp administrators and some of the things to consider when the nurse’s child is a camper.

Keeping Current

This article hits just some of the updates that will impact Summer 2009. Other things have not been addressed. Topics such as anaplasmosis, emerging information about mental and emotional health, and shallow water blackout have not been addressed, yet these are topics that today’s camp professional needs to know. Consequently, consider how you get information. To maintain your currency, are you effectively looped into appropriate knowledge centers and resources? Publications such as ACA’s The CampLine and the Association of Camp Nurses CompassPoint, listserv groups like the one for camp professionals, and subscribing to alerts from your State’s Department of Health all help. Take time to assess your information profile; adapt it to meet your needs.

Linda Ebner Erceg, R.N., M.S., P.H.N., is the associate director of Health & Risk Management for Concordia Language Villages and executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Originally published in the 2009 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.