Whatever fluctuating Federal alert level we might be at any given time, the fact remains that we live in a radically different world than we did before September 11, 2001.
At least it's a world in which we're much more aware of the potential dangers that exist outside the ever-present specter of natural and man-made disasters.
The fact that there has been, and always will be, some kind of potential danger lurking around the corner as fate dictates simply points to the fact that camps should always be prepared for any extraordinary event, be it terrorism, flood, wildfire or a giant chemical spill.
The important thing to remember is that emergency response -- regardless of the emergency -- should be consistent and well-planned.
Make the Team
First, form an emergency planning team. This team should have representatives from all the key positions in your camp organization such as administration, medical, counselors and any others that are specific to your organization.
Local first responders should also be part of your team. Fire, police, emergency management and emergency medical personnel are critical to your planning process.
Next, conduct a hazard assessment. Your plan and planning will be based on the hazards and risks your camp is vulnerable to. "When you're doing a hazard assessment you start with the big picture and work to the small -- what affects my region, my state and right here, down to my buildings," explains Gregg Champlin, with the State of New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management.
"Do a hazard assessment of the camp, which basically asks, 'What will affect us?' If you're in California you'll spend more time on the earthquake threat, if you're in the Midwest and the South tornadoes will be one of your major threats. Local conditions need to be taken into consideration too -- if the camp's near a chemical plant, for example."
Then start your plan development. Utilize the Incident Command System (ICS) in developing your plan. ICS is a system used by fire, police and emergency personnel for managing emergencies. It lays out a chain of command, which is particularly important when things could get chaotic. If the camp leader's gone, there should be a designated second in command and so on down the line.
Champlin recommends setting up different teams, such as a medical team and a camper care team, and be task oriented, no matter what the event is. For example, one of the medical team's tasks would be injuries. Counselors who are certified in First Aid could be designated for the command chain.
"ICS provides a management structure and will help the camp coordinate with outside officials when they respond. HAZMAT is HAZMAT, a crime scene is a crime scene, so a plan is a plan. I don't care if a city is hit by a major earthquake or terrorist attack, you'll be using the same tasks and functions," says Champlin. "It's task oriented, not hazard oriented. If someone releases sarin gas, or a tanker truck rolls over with chlorine outside the camp, they'll have the same result, except one's a crime scene."
Champlin emphasizes that clear lines of communication with local officials should be an ongoing component of any emergency procedure plan. Work on tightening communication while you create your teams, formulate the procedures and drill.
"It's about being aware of your surroundings, having close communication with local officials and responding based on their recommendations. For instance, we recommend five drills for schools -- drop-and-cover to protect them from things flying through the air, reverse evacuation, evacuation, lock-down and shelter-in-place," says Champlin. "One of two things happens in any HAZMAT -- you either shelter in place (close vents and other openings) until the event is over and you're given the all-clear. This is where staying in contact with emergency officials is so important, because you don't want to run out into what could be a toxic plume. Or, they're going to provide transportation to take you out of the area. But you're still sheltering in place until the transportation gets there."
One aspect of the emergency plan that should not be overlooked is to have "go-bags" ready. Go-bags include medical go-kits with necessary First Aid equipment and a go-bag with all of the children's information in it.
This information is a key component and should include all of the information you have about the campers. If there's an evacuation, you need to know how to get in touch with parents and the campers' medical information -- all of the critical information you would need.
Once procedures, contingency planning and equipment are in place, the next step is drills. Drills should be run regularly to test the speed, efficiency and accuracy of your plan.
"We have a camp in New Hampshire that a number of years ago began to practice tornado drills. They got hit with a wind shear the first week and had to use what they learned in the drills. It was very convincing to them about the necessity of doing drills. If I'm in tornado alley I'm going to do spend more time with that. We discuss tornadoes and earthquakes in New Hampshire because we get them," says Champlin. "The next thing you need is to get an idea of where you would take campers, and have several areas available, if possible. It could be another camp, or a building large enough to house them. You don't necessarily need another camp. Schools often get locked into using only public buildings when it's okay to use the business down the road that has a dining area large enough to keep the kids. Get a memorandum of understanding with these different complexes stating that you may take the kids to their facility. And, you should inform the parents that you have off-site evacuation if something happens. What concerns me is a small town with few emergency services. If you have a major incident it may be some time before help will arrive, so you have to be able to maintain and treat people while help is arriving. Many camps have one way in and one way out, and that's something else they should be looking at -- is there more than one way out?"
The real work in emergency planning, says Champlin, is keeping it simple. Have each team draw up their procedures. Then, get everyone together and present what each team has come up with and hash it out to create a final plan.
"It's easy to script everything, but if you end up with a book five inches thick, throw it out. If I'm a camp counselor and I know that I'm on the medical team, the camper care team or the camper release team -- which keeps track of their records -- I should have a one-page procedure that tells me what to do and the equipment to accomplish that task no matter what. And, I should adapt my plan to whatever the situation is," says Champlin.