Training Strategies that (still) Really Work

April 07, 2011

Ryan Lahne
Assistant Director, Facilities and Operations
Washington State University

Editors Note: Not all new ideas are necessarily better ideas. Some student training strategies are timeless — they’ve worked in the past, and they’ll work in the future. The following article describes some ‘tried and tested’ training strategies that have withstood the test of time, and continue to be highly effective training tools.

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes in the recreation world. For injuries as minor as a cut to cardiac arrest, most college recreation facilities rely on 18-22 year old student staff members as the primary responders for most situations. In addition to handling injuries and medical emergencies, student staff are frequently relied upon to evacuate facilities during fires, determining if a softball game should be called due to lightning, or just dealing with uncertainty that goes with a power outage. Regardless of the type of emergency, training and practice are the most important keys to make sure these young staff members are prepared for all situations. The following describes three simple, inexpensive and proven techniques to better train and prepare staff.

Safety Audits
In most instances, student staff acting as primary responders are required to hold current certifications in CPR, First Aid and increasingly, AED use. The certification and training will vary from institution to institution, but in most cases a student is required to attend a day long class and once they pass practical and/or written exams they are certified for a period of time. This period of time typically ranges from one -three years, and it is possible for a student to become certified and not have to use or think about these skills for up to three years. In this scenario it is likely that the skills they learned months or years ago may be misapplied or totally forgotten.

To address these issues and help with retention, safety audits should be preformed on a regular basis. A safety audit is a mock injury or emergency situation simulated in the work place to test skills of first responders. These audits should be as realistic as possible and should be closely monitored, assessed, and debriefed. A tangible system to assess the response should be developed and will vary by institution and program area. It is recommended that all staff whose duties include being a primary emergency responder should be tested each semester/quarter. If done properly the audit should take no more than 10 minutes and can be done while students are working their normal shifts.

Mock Emergencies
Full scale mock emergencies can initially be difficult to coordinate and administer, but if done correctly they can be the best strategy to help prepare students for emergencies. Most recreation professionals are not adequately trained to successfully administer a full-scale mock emergency such as evacuating the entire recreation facility during a mock fire, but in most instances there are trained professionals on campus or in the community willing to assist with mock evacuation and emergencies. When contacted, these professionals are usually willing to assist with the planning and administration of mock emergencies at your site. Many departments may not be willing to conduct these drills during the hours their facility is open (which produces the most realistic simulation), but even conducting the drill while the building is empty can be extremely beneficial in teaching student staff and identifying areas for improvement.

Table Top Exercises
If a mock evacuation is not possible or financially feasible, a table top exercise can be done relatively easily and in a short amount of time. A table top exercise is similar to a mock emergency, but it is carried out in a classroom and there is no ‘real’ response. Although not as effective as actually performing the response, these exercises often generate thoughtful discussion and can help prepare staff for a variety of situations. These exercises present a scenario or multiple scenarios to the responder that allows them to discuss how they would handle various emergency responses. While the actual implantation is not practiced, the mental process is simulated.

Regardless of the type of training or practice that is done, it is key to prepare your staff for typical situations that may occur. Simply requiring your staff to have a certification is not good enough, and in most instances will not help staff adequately respond to a situation that may be a matter of life or death for one of your participants.

For more information on training staff or sample safety audits, mock emergencies or table top exercises please contact the author directly at 509-335-8711 or


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