In an industry designed to be the fun makers for children and families, liability is always the watching monster hanging over us that we need to keep fed with protection and risk management.
The good thing about liability is that it keeps us vigilant in trying to be safer for our most valued commodity… the children.
This is the best time of year to pull out your risk management plans and the summer's evaluations. If you don't have a risk management or facility plan, now is a great time to start one.
In the evaluations from the summer past, the glorious remarks of how wonderful the camp, staff and program was are little golden nuggets of information that relate directly to your risk management plan and maintenance needs.
A little comment like, "I wish the tile in the bath house wasn't dirty and cracked," is golden! This is something you can fix and it's now at the top of your thinking rather than the bottom.
As directors we usually find ourselves focusing on the new building, climbing tower or program.
We sometime overlook the basics, like bathroom floors, painting, windows, carpets and signage! These are basic repairs that add to a safer environment.
Make a New Plan, Stan
So how do we combat out own thinking? Create a working risk management and facility plan -- a road map to safety.
Time to take a tour of your camp… after you read the summer evaluations. Walk the camp with a legal pad and pen. If you can take someone who has not walked your camp before, like a friend or a camper's parent, do it. They offer an objective view and find things you may not find.
Look critically at every building. Allow at least a page per building on your legal pad. Take two pads, if necessary.
Evaluate each building, from the moldings to the carpet to the door handles. Write down what you see. Look at the entrances, exits, and emergency procedure lists (are they still hanging up?).
Make the changes that you can now while they are fresh and right in front of you. Look for safety issues all around the building and inside it.
Give yourself two goals. One, to re-evaluate your camp as though you were re-opening next week. And, to work as though the health inspector and ACA visitors are coming.
The next step is to take the same walk and focus on your camp's landscape and attractiveness. Write down what you would change, clean up, move around or grow.
Look at the traffic flow. Look at camp's appearance from driving in the front gate. Try to re-create the first drive in if you were a parent dropping off your children. What do they see first? What are the obstacles in their way to park, check in and move their camper into their cabin?
As professionals we need to work on the first impression that the camper and parents have. To improve this first impression and the safety "feel" of the camp is our common goal.
Add to this list dream items like new buildings, program areas, docks, and so on. Combine this list with the first two and now you have a working goal sheet that addresses risk management and facility planning.
Prioritize the list. Separate projects that can be done internally and projects that need fundraising. Do your research! Find out the costs of all projects.
Build into your next year's budget projects that you can get done by your next inspection. Take your list and involve volunteers. Ask them to make their own journey through camp with your list and ask them to add to it.
Finally, take the staff input. Divide up the projects that can be done and who should do them. We are now in the planning stage of initiating your plans.
If your list incorporates everything mentioned then you're working from an active facility risk management and camp strategic plan.
After designating projects, add some timelines to the list. This builds your risk management plans into a strategic and master plan. The only addition needed to this plan to make it complete would be a list of procedural changes.
Procedural changes refer to things like the creation of incident forms if you don't already have them, policies to deal with accidents and inventorying the location of first aid kits and fire extinguishers.
Do you have drills on a regular basis? Is your staff trained in CPR and first aid? Do they have in-service training? How often? Do you record accidents and incidents? Do you bring in trainers to certify staff? Are your on-staff trainers renewed?
You must take care to answer these questions and keep records. Paper work is essential in risk management and tracking possible issues.
Have your plans reviewed by your insurance company. They are the best resources for these issues. They want you to be as safe as possible since they are the ones who will pay in case something happens!
Have them walk through and review your paperwork. Record their visit and suggestions. The best approach is to make your insurance company your friend and resource for materials and suggestions.
You cannot avoid or prevent all accidents and incidents, but you can plan and re-plan to make your camp safe and working toward preventative actions. Thinking ahead of the crisis separates a great camp from an average one.
Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio.