Stepping Up Emergency Planning

Gary Kimball, AMSkier Partner

The bombing at the Boston Marathon, coming at an iconic event on Patriot’s Day, follows a pattern of other actual and planned terrorist attacks. They occurred in large cities – New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc. – and were connected to business and patriotic symbols.

What about children’s camps?

While we write this only hours after the event and it is still unknown who is responsible for the bombings, we offer some initial thoughts based on what we learned working with camps after 9/11, the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting and many other events in between.

Evaluating the Threat

First, it is unlikely such an attack would occur at a camp, specifically one in a rural setting. Yet, because the consequences would be so catastrophic and emotional, it still needs to be part of your emergency planning. Evaluating all your risks (sometimes called a vulnerability analysis) is the first step to emergency planning.

Second, security should be a concern as you plan for the 2013 camp season. We have communicated several times since the Sandy Hook tragedy and are happy to share advice and resources.

Third, even a terrorist attack away from your camp could have serious consequences, so it’s important to understand and plan for these new contingencies. How? Consider these circumstances:

  • Families attempting to communicate with the children.
  • Children and staff attempting to communicate with families to make sure they are alive and well.
  • Inability to communicate with groups of staff and campers who are off-site at the time of the attack.
  • Panic on the part of families if telephones are not working.
  • Families arriving to take their children out of camp.
  • Children and staff grieving over the loss of parents.
  • Road, bridge or tunnel closings that make transportation impossible for day camps.
  • Day camps needing to keep children overnight.
  • Fear and anxiety on the part of campers.

Planning Your Response

To respond to these potential consequences, camps should add to existing emergency response plans. This planning should be based on the premise that unless the camp is in imminent physical danger, the safest place for campers to be is at camp. This planning should follow all the appropriate steps as in general emergency planning.

Key factors include:

  • Transportation: For off-site camp trips, a protocol should be established for communication and returning children to camp. In the event that communication is impossible, there should be clear guidelines on how and when to return to camp and what to do if it is impossible to return to camp.
    For day camps, planning should include transportation companies. This planning will establish clear procedures for pick-up and drop-off of campers, and steps to follow if transportation of campers is in progress at the time of the tragedy.
  • Psychological counseling: In the event of a tragedy, every child will react differently, some speaking openly and others going about their usual routine, seemingly unaffected. The goal should be to make children feel safe. Having access to psychological counseling, including grief counseling, is essential to pre-camp season planning.

Talking to Your Camp Families

The precautions I describe above are your answer for families who ask what you are doing to plan for emergencies. When you can explain your security measures, discuss how you plan for emergencies and detail how you are ready to be there for the physical and emotional health of your campers, then you will ease their minds. And assure your parents with these words: "Until you can get to us--we will care for your child!"

A reassuring letter or email to your camp families in the days ahead may not be necessary, but it would reassure them that those caring for their children are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

If you choose to write, remember to keep it brief, calm and don’t raise red flags. Simply structure it like this:

  • Mention the bombings and that you know they may be thinking about their children this summer
  • Remind them that such as event is very unlikely, but you plan for every eventuality.
  • Briefly mention what you do and are doing to make your camp even safer than it already is.
  • Express your grief for the victims and you look forward to the summer ahead.

A Final Thought

As our hearts go out to everyone who was lost, injured and affected by this horrific event, everyone at AMSkier stands ready with resources to help you in your pre-camp planning.