Risk Management: A Healing Collaboration

by Ed Schirick

The risk management planning process begins with goal setting and the creation of risk management policy. Owners, directors, managers, and boards of directors usually perform these tasks, and generally, the objectives are very broad.

There are five basic steps in the risk management process — risk identification, risk analysis, risk financing, risk control, and risk administration (monitoring). Crisis management and disaster recovery planning are part of step number four — risk control.

The action steps of a crisis response plan include ensuring the safety of campers and staff, getting medical care to anyone injured, protecting the environment if necessary, and preserving any property from further damage. Other crisis response tasks include reassuring parents and communicating with all who need to know. Hopefully, these actions will minimize the impact of the crisis on everyone involved and allow camp to stay in business. Returning to normal may take more time. Will you be prepared if your camp experiences a crisis this summer? Will your camp be able to survive financially and stay in business? The answers to these questions are within you. The risk management process can help you find the right answers.

The Right Stuff

Risk management requires 100 percent commitment and support from ownership and management. Without this support, risk management and crisis management plans will just be books on shelves to be periodically cleaned. Successful risk management planning also requires staff involvement. The challenge facing camp directors, especially in the current environment for camp insurance coverage, is to make risk management something more than a discussion during orientation — more than a writing project before an accreditation visit. The goal is to create a risk management culture at camp that influences everyone’s daily thoughts and actions. This objective has never been more important than it is today.

Sometimes disorganized actions and delayed response to a crisis work out for the best. Instinct and experience can make a difference. However, most of the time planned responses minimize damage to property, protect people more quickly, and produce better results than when the director relies on instinct and experience alone. Satisfactory outcomes don’t happen by chance. They happen because the managers and staff of the business took the time to think, plan, and be prepared.


Planning is the first step. Consider bringing your key staff and advisors together in a meeting to make a list of all the catastrophic, crisis situations that might affect your camp. Don’t eliminate any situation during this identification process. This first step should be an open and unbiased “brainstorming” session to identify crisis and emergency situations. Analysis and evaluation of the risks take place later in the process.

Key staff for purposes of this planning process includes your “middle managers” and, if possible, a representative from each “department.” Consider including head counselors, associate directors, program directors, office managers, your caretaker, or a respected counselor. Advisors you might invite to your “brainstorming session” include your accountant, lawyer, camp doctor, insurance representative, a consultant, a board member, your camp nurse, fire chief, police chief, or Red Cross representative. Include others if you think they will add value to the process. You may want to invite a parent, a friend, or a representative from one of the referral agencies, for example.

Some camps may have a long list of individuals who can contribute to these “brainstorming” sessions. If you do, consider breaking up the larger group and the tasks into smaller ones. Each group could concentrate on an assigned topic and then report to the group as a whole. Or, you could hold one session with staff first. After you have gathered their list of potential crises, hold another session with professional advisors. The objective is to get a comprehensive list from as many perspectives as possible within a short time. Once you have the master list, it’s time to analyze and evaluate them.

What Is the Worst that Could Happen?

The next step is to analyze and evaluate the potential crises. The goal is to determine the frequency and severity potential of each situation. Frequency measures how often. Severity measures how much in terms of dollars. Frequency should be determined along a continuum beginning with “almost never,” and continuing with “slight,” “moderate,” and ending with “often.” Severity should also be evaluated in a range from “slight” to “moderate” to “severe.”

This process involves looking at the past and projecting into the future. It requires that judgements be made about the validity of each potential crisis. Has this event happened in the past? When? What happened? How much did it cost? What are the chances it will happen again in the future? If it hasn’t happened before, what is the best estimate of how much it will cost if it does happen? What is the worse that could happen?

Group Participation Works Best

Facilitating group dialogue is hard and important work. The process builds commitment and teamwork. It increases awareness and gives the director an opportunity to identify key players for the camp’s crisis response team. It has been my personal experience that plans developed by a team in this fashion produce better, more comprehensive plans than those developed by a few people with more limited input from others.

Developing Your Response

Once you have ranked your master list of potential crises take stock of your situation. List the risk management, safety, and emergency policies and procedures you have already established. Evaluate all of your existing risk management, crisis management, and emergency plans in light of the information you’ve just gathered. Recognize that crisis management, as part of risk management, begins with prevention, loss control, and loss reduction. Make appropriate changes to your existing plans.

Identify all of your resources that might be needed in each crisis situation. Consider the resources of other camps in your immediate area as part of a mutual aid concept. Contact the state and local offices of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Red Cross, local hospital, and local ambulance and emergency medical services. Determine how they respond to crisis. Find out what they might be able to do for you. What can you expect from them if a crisis is local to your camp? How does their response differ if the crisis effects your entire geographic area? Remember to contact the police or sheriff’s departments, local fire department, your suppliers, the local utilities, the telephone company, your insurance company, and your camp doctor. Find out how they will help you respond to crisis. Make contact with your local media (radio, TV, newspapers) to learn more about how they respond to newsworthy emergencies and crises. What additional challenges does this present? How will you manage the media’s interest in a crisis or emergency at camp?

Build Your Team(s)

Once you have determined your resources, build your response team. Identify those resources common to all crisis responses. For example, directors will want to have a “control center” from which to direct and coordinate the camp’s response. What people skills will be needed in this center? Who will you assign to the “center?” What information is needed for the “center” to function? Is there any special equipment needed? Develop your plan — then make a back up plan in case the crisis prevents you from using your preferred location and team.

For each emergency or potential crisis ask yourself some “who,” “what,” “where,” “how,” “when,” and “what if” questions. What skills are needed on the crisis response team? A fire or tornado might call for a certain type of crisis response plan. Who responds first if the crisis is on camp premises? An automobile accident off premises will call for a different response. Who will respond to the crisis off camp premises? How will the team get there? How will the “control center” communicate with this response team? Consider what to do if circumstances don’t allow the plans to operate as intended. What if one of the members of the “first response” team is injured, or is out of camp? Who responds instead? Thinking about questions like these and others will help you identify the members of your crisis response team.


Internal and external communications are vitally important during a crisis. Keeping campers and staff informed is as important as keeping parents and others advised. A communication plan for informing the media is critical. Who will be your camp’s spokesperson? Will this person speak with the media, or issue a statement? What do you want to say? When?

Consider creating a crisis kit as an internal communication tool for your team. This could include a list of crisis team members and their jobs. It could also include important crisis telephone numbers, emergency instructions, back up plans, maps, and evacuation routes.


Review the crisis response plans with staff. Accept constructive suggestions for improvement. Train staff as needed to ensure their competency with assigned duties. Cross train staff to perform other duties if back-up plans are needed. Practice your responses during orientation and again during the summer, if possible. Evaluate performance and give feedback. Make changes and improvements as needed. Try to leave nothing to chance! Stay focused on constant improvement.

The structure provided by the risk management process will help you develop and implement a crisis response plan. It’s certainly not the most exciting work, but worth it in the long run. If you haven’t reviewed your crisis plan recently now is a good time to do so before the summer. If you’ve neglected to build your crisis plan it is never too late to start.

Originally published in the 2002 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.