Disaster Response and Recovery: Is Your Camp Ready?

March 2007

Fortunately the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season didn't meet the forecasters' predictions. The mild weather pattern was a welcome relief to those at risk following two devastating hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005.

Weather and changing weather patterns were big stories nonetheless in 2006 in other ways. An Associated Press article written by Randolph E. Schmid and reported on Forbes.com in 2006 went into the books as the third warmest year on record in the contiguous United States. The warm weather created dry conditions in parts of the country and spawned a record number of wildfires, with 9.5 million acres burned by year's end.

While parts of the U. S. suffered under drought conditions and burned, other regions (New England, South Central, and Pacific Northwest) were experiencing record rainfall causing floods, mudslides, extensive property damage, and loss of life.


Disasters can be widespread, impacting many businesses and lives like the damage a hurricane might cause from high winds and rain. Disasters can also be local and specifically impact your camp, such as a fire that destroys your dining hall or an automobile accident injuring many campers and staff.


Receiving help in a disaster depends upon the scope and type of the event. If damage is widespread involving many communities, like that caused by a flood for example, local, state, and federal governmental resources will be marshaled to provide assistance. In addition, organizations like American Red Cross, some private and religiously-affiliated disaster relief organizations can also be expected to respond in these circumstances.

The extent of the assistance and how quickly these resources respond will vary depending upon where your camp is located—and how severely the emergency response infrastructure is damaged by a widespread event. Emergency response officials usually advise that individuals and businesses be prepared to fend for themselves for at least the first seventy-two hours following a disaster.

The focus of the initial effort is rescuing people, finding temporary shelter for them, providing food, water, and medical care as needed. It is only after these priorities are addressed that governmental resources turn their attention to local businesses. This can be weeks, months, or years later.

Insurance company claim adjusters usually are on the heels of emergency response teams, trying to locate their customers, provide initial financial assistance as needed, and begin the task of assessing the damage.

Assistance to small businesses damaged by Hurricane Katrina for example, who didn't have insurance, or enough insurance, included Small Business Administration Loans at low interest rates to repair buildings and replace contents and inventories. Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) were also made available to small businesses unable to pay bills or meet operating expenses. There was even some disaster unemployment assistance for the self-employed persons.

Local Disaster Assistance

Response to a local disaster such as a fire that destroys your dining hall is a different story. Chances are disaster assistance will be focused and limited to emergency response by fire departments, police, emergency medical services, gas and electric companies, building code enforcement officers, and other local government agencies, such as your health departments.

You can also expect your insurance broker, insurance company, neighbors, fellow camp directors, the American Camp Association, and other camp professionals to be there for you and offer various types of assistance, but governmental resources (local, state, or otherwise) will typically not be available.

While you will not be entirely "on your own" so to speak, it will feel like you are at times. Camp directors who have experienced a disaster at their camp talk about feeling overwhelmed. It is easy to imagine the confusion and upset that overtakes people in a time of crisis. Camp directors who have successfully navigated the rough waters a disaster can create uniformly point to planning as one of the pre-event actions they took that helped make a difference.

Small Businesses Largely Unprepared

Studies on disaster preparedness from a variety of organizations report similar findings, most small businesses are not prepared to deal with a disaster and don't have disaster recovery plans. On the surface this is not surprising, or alarming.

We are bombarded with facts and figures in the headlines every day. The lack-of-preparedness report is the kind of information that "washes over us" and gets filed in the back of our minds as a project we will get to "one of these days." The real concern for business owners and managers is behind the headline: the studies conclude that up to forty percent of small businesses do not reopen following a disaster in their area.

It takes a few seconds to absorb this information. It takes a little longer to realize its significance and longer still to understand the risks and prepare a business continuation plan.

First Steps—Where to Begin

Why does it make good business sense to invest time and money in disaster response and recovery planning? Each of us may have slightly different answers to this question, but the common thread for many of us may be 1) help people (campers, staff, members of the public) in a time of crisis; 2) to survive the disaster; and 3) protect our businesses and continue operating our camps and conference center programs.

This is easier said than done, because the obstacles may be formidable. The good news is you probably have elements of a disaster response and recovery plan already in place (e.g., risk management plans including fire prevention plans, safety and health plans, emergency action plans, evacuation plans, etc.), which will make the development of your disaster response and recovery plan easier.

Next Steps—Establish a Team

The type and size of your business will influence the next steps. If you are a private camp owner, you just have to convince yourself and/or your partners that investing time and money in this project is good for your camp. If you are a nonprofit or religious organization, you will have to convince your board of directors.

After securing commitment from all stakeholders in your organization, establish a project team. Once again the size of your organization will influence the number of people on the team. It is a good idea to have at least two people involved if possible who have a broad perspective on all of the business and operational issues at camp. Following are some resources that may be helpful as your team starts developing your plan:

Step-by-Step Guide
A step-by-step approach can be found in the Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA 141/ October 1993). You can download a free copy by visiting www.fema.gov/business/index.shtm. FEMA also offers other publications and checklists on this site, which may be helpful to your planning team.

The guide is divided into four sections:

  • Section One—Steps in the Planning Process address forming a team, conducting a vulnerability analysis, how to develop a plan, and how to implement the plan.
  • Section Two—Emergency Management Considerations focus on life safety, property protection, communications, and community outreach.
  • Section Three—Hazard Specific Information discusses common hazards such as fire, hazardous material spills, floods, hurricanes, etc. and discusses planning considerations.
  • Section Four—Information Sources includes additional reference material available from FEMA and State Emergency Management offices.

Other Resources

The American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) is another valuable source of information on disaster planning and preparedness. Visit the Web site and click on Disaster Services to locate information about children and disasters. Click on Publications and go to Community Disaster Education Materials then to General Disaster Preparedness for more business-related information. Some of the material on the Red Cross site may be available for a nominal fee.

Another Web site worth exploring is www.disaster-recovery-guide.com. Besides general information about disaster planning, recovery, and some potentially useful links, they offer an MS-Word document template called the BCP Generator. For those interested in a "fill in the blanks," planning and disaster recovery guide, the document can be downloaded for $199.

Nuts and Bolts

One of the keys to developing a comprehensive plan is to do a thorough risk or threat analysis. The FEMA Emergency Management Guide refers to this process as a vulnerability analysis.

The Guide suggests considering risks unique to your site and facilities, as well as risk factors in your local community. It recommends a historical review of the types of events or emergencies occurring in the past (e.g., fire, hurricane, floods, earthquake, etc.); geographic factors (e.g., proximity to dams, military bases, railroads, chemical plants, etc.); review of technological risks (e.g., computer security breach resulting in the theft of camper parent credit card information, etc.); the risks of human error (e.g., sexual misconduct, carelessness, or fatigue which results in injury to campers or staff); and the risks that are created by the physical nature of your facilities themselves (ropes courses, age of buildings, condition of electrical systems, types of activities, etc.).

Once your team has identified the risks, assess the impacts on your organization in "what if" type scenarios. Build your response plans to manage and reduce the impact of these events, stabilize things, and return to normal as quickly as possible.

Don't forget to include a review of your insurance in the disaster planning process. It is important to know how and when your insurance, especially your camp's direct damage, and loss of income and extra expense insurance responds in a crisis. Don't let your camp become a statistic! Take the time to make plans to respond to and survive a disaster. Be prepared!

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 2007 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.