Prepare Staff For The Worst

By Patti Funaro

Is your camp staff prepared for what it will really encounter during a major incident? Do the members know how long it actually takes emergency crews to arrive on the scene? Have you prepared the facility?

Build awareness, knowledge and confidence with all staff members--from counselors-in-training to the camp director--by creating a mock disaster.

The secret to hosting a successful training event begins in the planning phase.

Here are some tips to get started:

Establish Goals
Clarifying goals and learning objectives will guide the planning process, and help to evaluate if learning outcomes have been met. Consider the following when establishing goals:

• Who are the intended participants?

• Which employees have been identified as requiring this training? Is the entire camp staff to be trained or a targeted group, such as aquatics? What is the motivation to participate? How much knowledge and skill do group members already possess?

• What are the learning objectives?

• What is the purpose of this particular training session (e.g., to educate and inform, analyze and practice skills, test knowledge)?

• What specific need is being met in a training session? Is the focus on disaster preparedness, or other objectives, such as accessibility, customer service, conflict management etc.?

Brainstorm Ideas
Discuss the feasibility of the disaster or emergency. Are the activities realistic? Could a similar situation occur at your camp? Ensuring practicality is important for the staff to take the series of events seriously.

Now that there is a general concept for the disaster or emergency, check your resources.

• Is there enough staff support for the scenario?

• Are the necessary funds available?

• Are supplies readily available?

• Are local fire, police and EMS willing to participate?

• Identify possible dates and then select the best one. Take into account the time needed to organize and establish partnerships. Determine possible conflicts, such as employee availability (exams, graduations, etc.) facility programming, and weather.

• Determine the location/space for the disaster. Try to keep the disaster self-contained and in one general area as much as possible. This will allow participants to be able to see the entire disaster. Proper visibility will ensure staff members gain as much as possible from the exercise.

• Consider the weather if the mock disaster will take place outside or involve evacuation. Is there a backup plan if the weather is poor?

• Establish roles for the day of the event, such as who will simulate victims and first responders, who will prepare mock injuries, and who will photograph or videotape, etc.

• Establish the special needs of the disaster, such as supplies and makeup to create injuries, as well as specialized equipment, such as AED trainers, additional first-aid supplies, a smoke machine, etc.

• Create a partnership with local fire, EMS and police. Contact authorities to request their participation. Be sure to point out the benefits not only for the camp staff but for theirs as well. Mock events such as these provide an opportunity to establish and correct issues that may arise in a real situation.

The Little Extras
Preparing a mock disaster helps staff build confidence in advance of the “real thing.” Building a complete picture of an accident scene not only improves the staff’s first-aid skills, but also helps it recognize injuries while conditioning the members not to react to pain and injuries in actual situations.

• Make the injuries as realistic as possible. To simulate a fire, consider using a smoke machine. If the injury likely will result in vomiting, be sure to add that to the mix. Many resources are available to help simulate injury and/or illness.

• Consider what staff members might smell during an emergency, and attempt to simulate it. To replicate a fire with burns, the smell of burning skin is similar to burning feathers. To create a mock gas leak, use the smell of rotten eggs as a warning system.

• Think about the sounds staff will hear during an emergency. If the incident is an explosion, attempt to simulate the sound. Ensure facility alarms are sounded to achieve the full effect.

• Be sure those simulating the injuries are as dramatic as possible. Consider adding in additional chaos, such as bystander panic.

• Develop a media advisory, and release it one week prior to the event.

• Invite local newspapers and television and radio stations to the training. Support from the local media is positive attention for the camp. Inviting parents to watch staff and emergency personnel work hand-in-hand will instill confidence.

• Complete a practice session with all actors and responders to ensure that everyone understands the series of events in the disaster. Ensure that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities for the mock emergency, and discuss any questions and concerns.

• Confirm participation of local fire, police and EMS. If possible, meet with them to review the details, location of the event, communication plans during the event, etc.

• Delegate and coordinate each person’s responsibilities in advance of the training. Be sure staff has an internal schedule or timeline that shows assigned responsibilities and more information concerning the flow and movement throughout the event.

Evaluation And Follow-Up
Evaluation is important for everyone involved in a program as it serves as a learning tool for those responsible for the event. The process begins with goal setting, and provides information to assess the overall effectiveness, not only of the training, but of the emergency procedures as well. Some questions to consider:

• How well did the disaster go? Did everyone respond appropriately?
• Were the program goals met?
• What impact did the session have on the staff?
• How could the event be improved?
• What are your recommendations?
• What are the emergency personnel’s comments on their experience with the staff?
• What procedures need to be updated or changed as a result of the practice session?

Planning a mock disaster is well worth the effort to make training interesting and memorable, as well as to instill confidence in staff, parents and campers.

Patti Funaro is the supervisor of programming at the Vollmer Culture and Recreation Complex in LaSalle, Ontario. For more information, visit