The risk management process provides a stable platform from which risk can be managed regardless of the season. In a way, the process is a compass, tried and true, on which we can depend as we navigate through the challenges of business and constantly changing risk.

As a reminder, comprehensive risk management plans are built upon the following pillars:

  1. Risk identification
  2. Risk analysis — prioritize
  3. Risk plan to control and transfer
  4. Track results, report, and monitor
  5. Learn, update, and constantly improve

Camps and conference centers throughout the country have done a good job of embracing risk management concepts and principles. However, the scope of many risk management plans is directed toward the risks that are present during operating seasons. As a result, many camp and conference center risk management plans fall short of addressing risks year round, unless, of course, programs and services are operating year round.

The scope of risk management planning should be year round, whether operations are conducted year round or just seasonally. Failure to broaden the scope of your plan increases the chance you will be surprised by and suffer a financial loss from a risk, event, or circumstance that might otherwise have been identified and managed.

Action item: Broaden the scope of risk management plans to include year-round risks.

Identifying Winter Risks

Winter risks differ by region and vary in intensity across the country. The following information is broadly based and should be applied taking into consideration where your camp or conference center is located.

Risk identification is the first pillar on which our risk management plan is built. Consider the following winter risks as part of this first step, and then evaluate your organization’s exposure to them for inclusion in your risk management plan:

  • Snow, sleet, and freezing rain
  • Ice
  • Rain
  • Localized flooding
  • Landslides, mudslides, sinkholes
  • Variable temperatures — freezing and thawing
  • Collapse of buildings/roofs due to weight of snow and ice
  • Very low temperatures, frozen water pipes
  • Wind
  • Falling trees and branches
  • Fire
  • Malfunction of heating equipment
  • Theft, vandalism, arson
  • On-premises and off-premises power interruption
  • Changing weather patterns

Action Item: Get your management team together to identify and assess your organization’s exposure to winter risks like those identified above and those unique to your camp or conference center facilities.

Managing Winter Risks

Let’s look more closely at a few of the winter risks identified, expand on the hazards associated with them, and share some risk management suggestions to address them. Property risks dominate the winter season. The risk management challenge is to minimize the damage to buildings, personal property, and property in the open from the ravages of winter weather.

Collapse Risk

Winter risks from snow, sleet, freezing rain, variable temperatures, and freezing and thawing combine to create a significant potential for collapse of roofs and buildings.

Factors that increase the collapse risk include the absence of any uniform building code standards in the U.S. until recently and the cumulative impact on the integrity of a roofing system after many years of supporting heavy snow loads. Eventually, the system weakens and the roof collapses during a heavy snow season.

The first line of defense against collapse risk is an annual inspection of roofs to identify ones that are in need of temporary repair and permanent replacement. Pay special attention to older structures and larger buildings. A sagging roofline is a warning sign. Consider reinforcing the roof trusses using temporary support columns until a more permanent repair or replacement can be made.

A second line of defense is a plan to shovel the roofs of all key buildings as needed when snow and ice accumulate. This is a fairly common practice where winter snow is heavy. Buildings with flat roofs are particularly susceptible to collapse losses during the winter. Avoid constructing flat roofs if your camp is in snow country.

Ultimately, as a prevention measure, you may want to hire an engineer to evaluate the roofing system integrity of your key buildings — especially those buildings with multiple additions — so you can be proactive about managing the collapse risk.

To minimize financial loss from collapse due to weight of ice and snow, conduct an annual inspection of all roofs in an effort to identify those in need of reinforcement, repair, or permanent replacement.

Fire and Security Risk

Concerns about fire are always present regardless of the season. Fire risk increases during the winter months when fire places, woodstoves, and space heaters may be in use in your cabins and program buildings if you are operating or in your caretakers dwelling on premises if camp is closed.

If fireplaces and woodstoves are in use, have the fireboxes been inspected and chimneys cleaned? Are fireplace inserts, woodstoves, and metal chimneys properly installed? Are smoke detectors operational with battery backups if power fails? Are carbon monoxide detectors in use and appropriately positioned? This is a life-safety issue. Are proper fire extin¬guishers in place?

When camp is closed, opportunity grows for vandalism, burglary, and theft. Sometimes, these events are followed by arson as a cover up. What is your plan for off-season security?

Having a caretaker live on the camp premises is a big deterrent to possible intruders. Have you considered installing security cameras? Do you have fire and burglar alarms for key buildings? Are these alarms connected to a 24/7 monitoring service? Have you considered hiring a private security company to patrol the premises?

Historically, directors have depended on local law enforcement. As the economy continues to be sluggish, local municipalities have fewer resources and may not be able to provide the same services as they have in the past.

Interestingly, the main cause of fire at camp is electrical. This is a year-round concern. Underlying winter causes may include the following:

  1. Damage to wiring by vermin, particularly rodents, may cause the wire to be exposed. This creates a fire hazard. The risk factor increases as these animals seek shelter from winter weather. If camp is closed for the winter and electricity is off, the risk and concern is shifted to the spring when electric service is restored.

    Consider taking action to control mice and other vermin in buildings. Inspect wiring annually before turning on electricity. Look into hiring an electrician to look for hot spots in your buildings using a thermo-imaging camera. Investigate the costs of rewiring buildings with armored wiring instead of using wire covered by rubber-like polymers or plastic.

  2. Portable electric heaters can be quite dangerous and may be a fire hazard if not used properly. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and heed warning labels.

    If an extension cord is needed, make sure it has appropriate capacity for the appliance. Extension cords are not “one size fits all”: They come in different capacities and sizes.

    Keep flammables and combustibles away from the portable heater and don’t overload the wall outlet with other electric appliances. Make sure to unplug the heater when it is not in use.

Winter Automobile Risks

Vehicles used seasonally should be stored inside if possible. Liability and collision damage insurance coverage should be suspended. Physical damage insurance for anything other than collision risks should be maintained if the vehicle has sufficient value.

If possible, store vehicles in various buildings around the camp property to reduce the risk of a single loss, such as a fire or roof collapse, which might damage or destroy your entire fleet. Keep the keys in a separate, secure place to reduce the risk of theft while they are laid up.

If you must drive in winter weather, consider taking a defensive driving course for a refresher on how to drive safely in inclement weather. The National Safety Council offers this course in many areas around the country. A secondary benefit from this is a potential discount on your personal auto insurance, but this depends on your state and insurance company’s policies and practices.

Having at least one all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle makes a lot of sense if your camp or conference center operates year round in wintry conditions. Vehicles like these run well through the snow. However, they don’t do well under icy conditions. Consider the use of snow tires with metal studs if icy driving conditions are part of your winter’s landscape.

Ten states prohibit the use of studded snow tires: Alabama, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Louisiana, Hawaii (not much risk of snow and ice there), Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Seven states — Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Kentucky, New Mexico, Vermont, and Wyoming — permit the use of studded snow tires and have no restric¬tions on their use. All the rest, thirty-three states in total, permit the use of studded snow tires but have seasonal restrictions.

Winter weather is unpredictable, so be prepared. Visibility is often reduced, roads may be narrower as snow accumulates, and roads may be covered with snow, water, or ice. Slow down and take your time. Increase your following distances. Take care when stopping as conditions may be slippery, although the icy conditions may not always be apparent.

This discussion of winter risks and tips on how to manage them is not intended to be a complete analysis. Hopefully, it is sufficient to stimulate your thought processes and will lead to the development or enhancement of an all-seasons risk management plan at your camp or conference center.

Edward A. Schirick, CPCU, CIC, CRM, is senior vice president at Schirick & Associates Insurance Brokers, a division of Bollinger Inc. in Short Hills, New Jersey, where he specializes in arranging insurance coverage and offering risk management advice for camps. Schirick is a chartered property casualty underwriter, a certified insurance counselor, and a certified risk manager. He can be reached at 877.794.3113. Visit

Originally published in the 2013 January/February Camping Magazine