Operating multi-site Camps

October 18, 2015

The need for consistency

Jeff C. Heiser
Senior Assistant Director, Recreation
UC Davis

Operating youth camps on campus comes with a number of risk management concerns. There are numerous considerations to address prior to bringing youth on campus including staff recruitment and training, emergency response procedures, facility management, and program quality and routines. These issues are multiplied if you are considering running youth camps at multiple sites across campus or at off-campus sites. While this would allow you to diversify your program offerings and serve more participants, you have the additional responsibility of ensuring that all program sites are up to the same standard of operation. To ensure that the quality of your program is of the highest level, conduct some initial research and assessment, regardless of the location of your program.

Site Visit
Before taking your camp program “on the road” it is important to conduct a serious assessment of the potential new location. As a director, you should visit the location during times when your program would be operational. When doing so make note of the other users that frequent the site and consider how they would impact your program and how your program would impact their business. The importance of the site visit is to determine how your camp program’s presence would impact the location that you are researching.

Designated Site Person
As the director of a youth program, you cannot be everywhere at once. For this reason it is critical that you designate point people at each camp location to ensure that your finger is on the pulse of each one. These designated point persons should be capable of handling most situations, but you should also establish criteria for when you will be contacted for support (e.g. medical situation, parent complaint). Regular check-ins should be scheduled in advance to discuss how each camp is going at the various sites. These designated point persons are the liaison between you and the parents/guardians, so it is critical that you select qualified staff to represent you and the program well.

Site Specific Emergency Response
Emergency response plans will vary from site to site. While “remain calm” is pretty universal, it is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of your new site to manage any potential risk. You will need to familiarize yourself with established emergency response plans in your new sites. This includes knowing the basics of where the nearest emergency exits, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers are located. You should also know the fire evacuation routes and meeting locations for any emergencies. Local EMS and Fire Departments may already have site specific procedures so it is essential to know how they access buildings in emergencies.

Hopefully you have established a solid check-in and check-out routine at your home base. You will need to recreate this seamless process wherever you take your camp program. This includes exploring where you will hold check-in and check-out, where parents/guardians will park and how they will access the location, and whether or not additional signage is needed. You should consult with local parking authorities as they can help determine the best area for check-in that will maintain the flow of traffic.

You will need to establish routine communication plans with all staff. How will off-site staff notify home base about issues such as absent campers, forgotten lunches, sick staff members, parent complaints, etc? You’ll want the on-site designated point person to handle many of these situations, but the home base should be aware of them, especially if they become a pattern. Open and routine communication could prevent the same mistakes from happening again, even if it is just a simple fix such as correcting or adjusting the message going out to participants.

Consistency of Procedures
All program areas should have consistent procedures and routines. Regular site visits during key times such as check-in, check-out, lunch and down time will give you an idea if standard procedures are being utilized. A parent should be able to check-in their camper at any location and have a similar experience. Staff should be present at in-service trainings and staff meetings to ensure everyone is receiving the same messages about procedures. You can build in “site specific” meeting times during your all-staff meetings, but common practices should be taught, understood and implemented from one location to the other.

Operating multiple program sites can be a great addition to your program. Being able to offer a variety of new programs and serve more participants can have a positive impact on your program. It is essential to ensure that your quality of programming is consistent regardless of location. This can be achieved by doing some extra research and assessment on the front-end. The bottom line is that your customers are expecting the same level of programming, service, and safety regardless of location.

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