Safe and secure summer: What to know before your child goes to camp

Many of you may be looking into a summer camp for your child, but do you know what’s on campgrounds to keep your child safe?

It’s really hard to find a truly safe place anywhere these days. Public venues are a target for violence. Schools, churches, concerts and theaters have seen some of the worst bloodshed in recent years. So, if you’re a parent, you probably have questions. The first: How safe is the camp I’m sending my child to?

“Welcome to Bear Creek Aquatic Camp, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana,” Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Brown welcomes us.

It’s almost time for kids to reconnect with friends in the great outdoors in Benton, Kentucky. “Girls who do come to come year after year tell us they love to be here on the lake, even though they’re on lake all the time,” says Wilcox. She says camp life is still what you might remember from your childhood. What’s different is the world beyond the trees. “Parents have changed, society has changed, and parents expectations have changed of organizations like Girls Scouts,” Wilcox explains.

It’s the same for West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Hopkins, Kentucky. Both camps adhere to American Camp Association standards. CEO Tom Rosenburg says ACA looks at building in site evacuations and additional training. “The key is that every person on that staff understands their individual responsibility as part of the greater plan,” says Rosenburg.

Rosenburg says rehearsals will happen before the first camp session starts, “to make sure everyone knows what to do when there is some kind of emergency.” ACA standards include emergency exits, care of hazardous materials, emergency transportation, staff screening, fire and safety equipment evaluation and contact with local officials.

Bear Creek Aquatic Camp sits on 183 beautiful acres. As the organization continues to add to its safety standards, there is one protocol in place meant to grab the attention of counselors and campers on site. It’s what you would think of as a tornado siren, except it’s set up to give different alerts in Morse code depending on the emergency situation.

“There are a series of beeps and sounds that will come over our camp PA. Our staff will know that the particular series of beeps and sounds will mean we have a missing camper,” says Wilcox. In the case of an active shooter, camps are working with the national protocol: run, hide, fight. “That is the protocol that law enforcement has encouraged us to use and to train with our staff. We will have, during our staff training, work with a law enforcement agency to ensure that our staff can identify where there hiding spots will be, so that they can train their campers appropriately. Then, they will know where the central relocation is once the all-safe call is made,” Wilcox says.

Calls for training come in almost daily to the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office. Maj. Will Coursey says there is no cookie-cutter answer. “You know it’s here. Your situation, you got to respond to it. Here’s the information you need, which option is going to work for you,” says Coursey.

The reality is we live in a different world. Times are changing. Wilcox says organizations have a choice. “We can either be proactive, and lean in, and provide our girls with a safe and wonderful environment, or they’ll find their outdoor experience somewhere else,” she says.

After first impressions have been made and before the first day of camp, parents should ask camp staff their questions and address their concerns. Time at camp should come with peace of mind for parents and children.

Mental health training is also becoming an important part of safety protocols. Counselors are beginning to train in how to address mental health issues and how to comfort children properly.

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