Camps and Crises: Lessons for 2011

About this time of year, every year, I have to ask question that nobody wants to think about: what disasters could shut down a summer children’s camp?

This is the time of year when I begin speaking to the children’s camp community about managing and preparing for emergencies and crises in the coming season. I’m beginning the 2011 season with a presentation at the American Camp Association National Conference, which kicked off Tuesday in San Diego.

As you can imagine, there are certain concerns camps must be prepared for every year, like potential camper injuries. However, it’s already clear that 2011 may offer particular challenges for camps:

  • Food allergies: Has it seemed like more and more kids are coming to camp reporting food allergies? It turns out that food allergies truly are on the rise on the rise in the U.S.
  • Extreme weather: On the East Coast, we’ve been experiencing one intense winter. Experts are predicting that extreme weather may continue to be a problem this year. Unusual weather around the world is already affecting global food prices.
  • Infectious disease: With increasingly numbers of children not being vaccinated, we’re seeing an increased potential for outbreaks of childhood diseases that Americans haven’t encountered in decades, like measles and mumps. Plus, pertussis made an unfortunate comeback in 2010.

Of course, some of these concerns may seem like distant possibilities, but H1N1 took camps by surprise in 2009 and no one really knows when or how an emergency will emerge. That’s what makes it so important to prepare for every eventuality with a well thought out emergency response plan. And beyond the logistical considerations of emergency response, camps must also consider communications.

Believe it or not, camps can learn a great deal about effective communications by paying attention to corporate PR blunders. Toyota failed to communicate quickly and effectively about their massive 2010 recalls, sacrificing its reputation (see my earlier post on this). In the wake of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s reputation took an even bigger hit because of their ineffective front man and misguided attempt to spin the situation.

Americans angry about the oil spill also took to Twitter and Facebook in droves, with one critic going as far as to create a Twitter account that satirized BP’s corporate PR. Social media and the rise in internet news sources are also relevant to a camp director in times of crisis. This is making it more important than ever to communicate quickly and effectively over a variety of media, even for camps.

What do you think camps should be prepared for in 2011?

(Are you at the ACA conference? You can attend my session on Thursday, February 11 at 10 AM, in Aqua 311.)

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