Many camps did not operate this past summer because of COVID-19.

There were serious consequences for all as a result. Children lost the opportunity for summer fun and engagement; parents lost the opportunity for a break — a break so badly needed after months in quarantine and isolation. Camps lost the opportunity to bring in revenue, resulting in catastrophic financial impacts.

Crisis management firms can help their clients navigate negative events to mitigate impacts to their critical assets — people, brand, reputation, and finances. In addition, they can help clients focus on the potential to transform a crisis into value. 

How is this done? Through:

  • Delivery of immediate response services that focus on caring for individuals who were impacted by the event, such as coordination of medical treatment and travel, liaising with family members, and offering psychological first aid for those traumatized by the event.
  • Stakeholder identification and effective and timely communication with them that addresses their specific needs, delivered through the right channels (e.g., phone vs. email).
  • Management of the media, which typically means no media engagement. 
  • Where applicable, coordination of investigation and legal services to ensure evidence is preserved, witnesses are interviewed, and attorney-client privilege attaches around work-product.
  • Monitoring social media and open source intelligence to measure stakeholder and public sentiment and determine whether a camp’s strategy is working.

After managing through a catastrophic event, most organizations are motivated to make sure that what occurred won’t happen again. Whether it’s a fire, a drowning, sexual abuse, or a transportation accident, the goal is to emerge safer, perhaps even to raise the bar across the entire camp industry.

While no camp created the tragedy that is COVID-19, the confrontation of this virus and its impacts will position some camps to emerge with a competitive advantage in the future.

We’ve seen communicable illness outbreaks at camp before — measles, Zika, H1N1, meningitis, as well as illnesses resulting from foodborne and waterborne pathogens. While no communicable illness in recent time has affected all camps everywhere, at virtually the same time, there are camps that know what it is like to experience a temporary or complete seasonal shutdown before or during the camp season. When this happens, the involved camp must navigate the crisis to survive.

Survival requires a willingness by camps to reinvent themselves. It requires looking in the mirror and examining the way everything is done and why it is done that way. It requires a willingness to change and invest in strategies that minimize exposures going forward — whether that be through operational protocols or the purchasing of insurance.

The camps that operated this summer not only needed permission, but they also had to be innovative and creative to open. Through consultation with renowned experts on topics such as infection control, pediatrics, monitoring, and testing, they designed an environment that included children having fun.

Was the environment without risk? Absolutely not. Was the risk worth taking? It depends who you ask. Parents who sent their kids to camp this summer think so; those who did not found the risk to be greater than they wanted to bear. Both positions are understandable.The coronavirus has led to tragic outcomes for many families and presents risk for everyone. That said, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts, campers and counselors are at a lower risk of being harmed by the virus because of their age. Weighing the risk, many regulators, legislators, and governors permitted camps to operate. Some allowed residential and day camps to operate; others just day camps. Regardless of the format, precautions were required to manage the exposure to the virus.

Many camps are very familiar with such precautions by now; they included social distancing, hygiene, cleaning, monitoring, use of personal protective equipment, testing, and action plans following positive test results (including isolation, contact tracing, and more testing).

Camps that operated found ways to comply with these protocols. They thought through and redesigned almost every aspect of their daily operations. How they ate. How they slept. How they showered. How they played. How they monitored the health of everyone, every day.

Certainly, compromises were made this summer. Camper-camper and camper-staff interactions were more limited in number, which positioned camps to be able to contact trace if needed. Cleaning procedures and hygiene requirements for campers and staff were more stringent, interrupting activity schedules throughout the day. Dining halls were replaced by prepacked meals. Fewer campers were assigned to a cabin, and campers slept head to toe. All these compromises were made to minimize the risk and spread of infection.

Compromise is exactly what we do to manage risk and increase safety.

This summer, we had to forego interactions with the many and spend time with just a few. Perhaps, in the long run, our connections will be deeper and more meaningful. We cleaned and washed more. Perhaps we will be healthier, contracting fewer colds or the flu. Let’s be honest, we’ve always wanted our kids to take the time to wash their hands and clean up after themselves. Maybe, now that they’re home from camp, they will continue to do just that.

We expect that many surprising benefits and positive outcomes, as well as lessons learned this summer, will impact camp seasons to come. Those lessons learned will fall into categories such as pre-camp screening and infection control, as well as insurance and risk transfer. I’m sure, like me, you can’t wait to hear all about them.Whether you chose to open your camp or close your camp, you made a compromise — one directed toward protecting everyone. Take credit for the decisions you made and actions you took this summer. You transformed crisis into value.

Stay well, everyone!

Suzanne Rhulen Loughlin is a founder of and general counsel for CrisisRisk Strategies, LLC. CrisisRisk™ works with leaders and boards of directors to identify strategic emerging threats and vulnerabilities that put critical assets — people, reputation, brand, key relationships, and financials — at risk. CrisisRisk develops strategies for mitigating those risks and prepares leadership teams to make decisions, take action, and effectively communicate when they materialize.

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