Feature Article - August 2011
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Dealing With Disaster

Disaster Plans Are Vital for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facilities

By Deborah L. Vence


Preparing for Disaster

No one could have predicted Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf oil spill. But, experts say there are some ways parks and recreation can prepare for a disaster.

For instance, the American Camp Association, a community of camp professionals based in Martinsville, Ind., has disaster plans in place.

"Camps need to first identify potential emergencies/disasters that might occur. This might be through a natural disaster (tornado, fire, floods) or medical emergency (24-hour flu)," said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. "Next, they need to determine what actions need to be taken to prevent damage: fire mitigation, tree assessment and removal as necessary, sanitation procedures to be followed (hand washing, wiping down door knobs, phones, light switches with bleach solution), etc."

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) developed a disaster preparedness list that parks and recreation can use to prepare for a disaster.

Based on this information, camps should make a plan to be followed in the event something does occur. The plan, she said, should clearly outline the following:

  • Who is responsible for campers?
  • Where will everyone go? On-site?
  • How will everyone be transported if that is necessary?
  • Who is responsible for necessary records/medication?
  • Who is responsible for any external communication?
  • How will internal communication be handled?
  • Who needs to be contacted (parents, insurance provider, etc.)?

"One of the most critical steps is to practice the plan," Smith said. "Camps should set up scenarios and have staff go through each one as though it is a real situation. This gives staff first-hand experience, which tends to stick better than just talking about it. After the drill, camps need to evaluate and determine what worked well, what might need to be revised."

She added, "As camps vary greatly, ACA does not have one specific plan. Instead, we ask each camp to create what is most appropriate for them. Camps should also rely on expert advice when formulating the plan. For example, when outlining a plan for an influenza outbreak, camps should check with the CDC and AAP on recommendations, and be sure any plan is compliant."

Smith also said that campers should always be aware of potential situations and even be involved in some of the drills.

"Make them as real as possible with campers bringing their day packs with water, packing an extra set of clothes, making sure they have on appropriate footwear, etc. Like so many things in camp, this is a real teachable moment. By discussing why drills are done, and the importance of being prepared, camps are teaching life lessons that extend well beyond the camp season," she said.