Risk Management: Some Risks Just Won't Go Away


Risk Management

By Edward A. Schirick, C.P.C.U., C.I.C., C.R.M.

Risk is constantly changing. Recognition of this fact requires periodic
review and updating of risk management strategies. Equally important as
risk awareness and risk reduction strategies is the actual execution of
the plan. The best plans on paper offer little or no protection if they
are not executed properly. Some risks are resilient, persistent, and require
constant attention. Sometimes events occur in spite of the camp risk manager's
focus. Sometimes accidents happen, because the plan wasn't executed
properly.

Transportation, weather, and inappropriate behavior are resilient, persistent
risks. They present a constant challenge. Unfortunately, these risks together
with certain circumstances marred the summer of 2005 and made news headlines
in some areas. The result was deadly and life altering for some. These
risks and some strategies for managing them are reviewed briefly in the
following discussion and are intended as reminders of the need for vigilance
and discipline in camp risk management practices.

Transportation Risk

Camps pay a lot of attention to the risks associated with transporting
campers and staff in the summer. This is appropriate. There are a number
of well-known issues (fifteen-passenger vans, driver training, etc.),
which have been discussed in this column several times. For the most part,
camps do an admirable job of managing transportation risk issues. Unfortunately
in 2005, we were reminded about the severity of this risk. One story stands
out.

Invariably, stories with tragic endings raise fundamental issues and
leave us asking "why?" Consider the situation where a counselor
uses her own car on a hot July day to take campers to a nearby lake to
swim. Was she using her car with the camp director's permission?
Did the camp check her driving record before entrusting the campers to
her? If they did check her driving record, they would have learned her
license was suspended in May for reckless driving. Did someone know and
ignore the information? Did anyone know she took six campers in a car
with only five seat belts? Who would have imagined she would weave recklessly
in and out of traffic passing other cars at excessive speed? Who would
expect a twenty-five-year-old woman to behave this way?

These and other questions are being asked by a shocked community and
shattered families. A local district attorney is investigating what the
camp director and her staff knew to determine if there is any criminally
negligent behavior on the part of the camp.

Managing Risk

Camps should avoid using private passenger vehicles to transport campers,
unless there is an emergency. All employees who have primary or secondary
duties, which include driving pickups, vans, buses, or their own vehicles
on camp business should provide their driver license information before
they report to work so an appropriate check of their driving history can
be obtained.

Some camps run these checks themselves. If this is your practice, send
a copy of the records obtained to your insurance broker for review and
discussion with your insurer. Some insurance companies prefer to run these
reports themselves. Check with your insurance broker to determine how
your underwriter handles this matter.

This process often uncovers drivers who are ineligible to drive camp
vehicles. This may be due to violations, accidents, or inexperience. You
may be asked to sign a form acknowledging these individuals are not authorized
to operate your vehicles. This process may be frustrating for you at times,
because an employee you were depending upon to drive may not be permitted
to do so as the result of poor driving history. However, this process
will help you protect your campers, keep you on good terms with your insurer,
and may even keep you out of jail. Managing transportation risks at camp
requires a comprehensive plan, which should also include regular maintenance
of the vehicles, proper driver selection, and driver training.

Weather Risks

Hot, humid days are expected and welcome during the summer. With them
come a number of risks. One of these is lightning. Unfortunately, this
summer there were several lightning deaths associated with camp programs,
mostly in the West. In some cases, campers were caught outdoors. Others
may have selected inappropriate shelter, which contributed to the unfortunate
outcomes. This information underscores the fact that lightning should
be taken very seriously.

Managing Risk

The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends the following practices
to reduce the risk of being struck by lightning:

  • Plan in advance — when you first hear thunder or see lightning
    take immediate action. Go into a building or inside a vehicle. Lightning
    typically precedes rain, so don't wait for the rain to start to
    suspend your activities.
  • If you are outdoors — avoid water, stay off high ground, and
    avoid open spaces. Stay away from all metal objects, including electric
    wires, fences, machinery, motors, power tools, etc. Unsafe places include
    underneath canopies, open air pavilions, small picnic or rain shelters,
    or near trees. Where possible find shelter in a substantial building
    or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle, such as a car, truck, or van.
    Keep the windows completely shut. Avoid touching any metal in the vehicle.
  • If indoors — avoid water. Stay away from doors and windows.
    Do not use telephones. Take off headsets. Turn off and stay away from
    appliances, computers, power tools, and TV sets. Lighting may strike
    outside electric and phone wires causing shocks to travel inside.
  • Suspend activities for thirty minutes after the last observed lightning
    or thunder.
  • Injured persons do not carry an electrical charge and can be handled
    safely. Render first aid if qualified to do so. Call 911.
  • Know your emergency telephone numbers.

There is no safe place outdoors in a lightning storm. When a safe place
in a building or in a vehicle is not nearby, the National Weather Service
recommends the following last resort actions to lessen the threat of being
struck by lightning:

  • Do not seek shelter under tall isolated trees! Stay away from all
    tall isolated objects. Lightning typically strikes the tallest object;
    that could be you in an open field, or clearing.
  • Do not seek shelter under partially enclosed buildings.
  • Know the weather patterns of the area. For example, in mountainous
    areas lightning storms develop in early afternoon, so plan your hike
    early in the day and be off the mountain before then.
  • Know the forecast for your area. If a high chance of lightning storms
    is predicted curtail your plans or reschedule (avoid the risk).
  • Do not place your campsite in an open field or on the top of a hill
    or ridge. A tent offers no protection from lightning. If you are in
    a forest stay in a lower stand of trees. If you are camping in an open
    area, locate your site in a ravine or valley.
  • Wet ropes make excellent conductors. This is bad news if you are
    mountain climbing and lightning comes in contact with the rope. Remove
    unnecessary or extended ropes attached to you if you can safely do so.
  • Stay away from metal including poles and backpacks.
  • If lightning is striking nearby and you are outdoors you should:
    • Crouch down. Put feet together. Put hands over your ears to minimize
      hearing damage from thunder.
    • Avoid proximity (minimum fifteen feet separation between you
      and other people).

Abuse and Molestation

Camp professionals are aware of many issues associated with abuse and
molestation. Abuse, molestation, and exploitation are societal problems
that must be addressed if we are truly committed to protecting, educating,
and nurturing our children.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on doing criminal background checks.
Criminal background checks are only part of a comprehensive abuse and
molestation risk management plan. However, we still talk with directors
from time to time who are still not doing a comprehensive background check.

If you are among those directors not doing the most comprehensive criminal
background check available as part of your overall risk management plan
and due diligence with staff, arrange to do so in 2006. There are a number
of background checking services available today that examine national
databases quickly and fairly inexpensively.

The risk of abuse and molestation has changed over time. Initially,
the focus and concern was on adult-to-child abuse, molestation, and exploitation.
In recent years, underwriters have noticed more child-to-child abuse.
This data includes bullying and hazing behaviors as well. Adult/counselor-to-camper
abuse and molestation issues are still of concern, but once again the
facts underscore change in the risk.

Managing Risk

When was the last time you reviewed your abuse and molestation risk management
plans? Does it address strategies to reduce the child-to-child abuse risk?
Now is a good time to update your plan if you haven't done so recently.
There are many resources to help you with this process. One of those is
a Seven Step Program For Protecting Children developed by an organization
called Darkness To Light. The seven steps follow:

  1. Learn the facts.
  2. Minimize opportunity.
  3. Talk About it.
  4. Stay alert.
  5. Make a plan.
  6. Act on suspicions.
  7. Get involved.

Visit their Web site for more in-depth information on the Seven Step
Program at www.darkness2light.org.

Be Alert and Vigilant

Risk is constantly changing. Be alert; be vigilant. Stay focused. Concentrate
on executing the fundamental aspects of your risk management plan excellently.
Be open to new approaches and update your risk management plans and strategies
regularly.

Edward A. Schirick, C.P.C.U., C.I.C., C.R.M., is president
of Schirick and Associates Insurance Brokers in Rock Hill, New York, where
he specializes in providing risk management advice and in arranging insurance
coverage for camps. Schirick is a chartered property casualty underwriter
and a certified insurance counselor. He can be reached at 845-794-3113.

Originally published in the 2005 November/December
issue of Camping Magazine.

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