Burying Our Heads in the Sandbox: Ignoring Security at Summer Camps

Regrettably, too many camp administrators are passing off concerns of parents as overreactions, claiming that there is nothing that can really be done in such wide-open environments. Others recognize the threat but are misallocating their limited resources.
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With signs of spring just barely starting to show, it might be hard to imagine that camp directors from coast to coast are dusting off their handbooks and starting to plan for summer. Yet apart from the standard repairs, hiring, and logistical concerns, summer camps increasingly have to worry about a relatively new matter: security. As reporting of lone wolf attacks steadily grows, with threats from ISIS and other groups looming in the back of parents' minds everywhere, camp leaders are perhaps for the first time really having to address a growing chorus of parents concerned for the safety of their children. Unfortunately, too many camps are failing to adequately deal with the fact that summer camps have become an ideal "soft target."

As schools have begun to button up their security protocols and hardware, making them more difficult to attack, summer camps remain wide open. All too often, the bad guys of this world seek out the softest targets possible. And while school attacks are more widespread, attacks on summer camps are not without precedent.

On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island in Norway, killing 69 campers. He had killed another eight in a bombing in Oslo hours earlier. Lanza admired Breivik and may have sought to emulate or even outdo him as a result. While their ideologies may have differed, it is a widely known fact that active shooters learn from each other, are indoctrinated by one another, and seek to surpass one another.

Regrettably, too many camp administrators are passing off concerns of parents as overreactions, claiming that there is nothing that can really be done in such wide-open environments. Others recognize the threat but are misallocating their limited resources.

The good news is that despite camps being porous and open by nature, there is much that can be done to protect them. While no security plan will ever be perfect, summer camps can and should take steps to better secure their campers, staff and campgrounds. There are two areas where camps should invest and focus: operational training and security guards. Operational training includes training relevant staff members on emergency procedures such as lockdowns and evacuations -- tailored specifically for their camps. Operational training also means improving day-to-day operations to better deter potential attackers, more easily identify a breach, and better report activities to law enforcement. Emergency procedures must ultimately fulfill one key objective: to buy time for an effective police response. And at too many remote camps around the country, an effective police response can be upwards of 15-45 minutes away.

Employing properly trained security personnel with law enforcement backgrounds who are more adequately equipped to deal with threats helps not just to deter, but also to potentially provide an effective response before a larger police force can arrive on scene. Good operations will help identify and hopefully prevent threats from occurring in the first place. But if an emergency were to unfold, the security guards could help mitigate the loss of life and buy time for an effective police response. Too many camps are increasingly employing security guards with minimal training who are getting paid meager salaries. These guards are providing a false sense of security to staff, parents and campers. They have too few hours of training and no means to protect themselves and others. They are essentially hired as gatekeepers to wave at cars driving into the property, without the resources to screen them or the tools and know-how to properly respond in an emergency.

As camp leaders sit down to plan their summers, now is the time to budget for proper security measures. They can all start with a proper security audit and assessment of their facility. Many camps are investing money on items that will ultimately do little to protect their campers and staff. Spending a little bit of money on a proper audit -- one that reviews both operations as well hardware -- will help identify some key items that should be addressed before the summer begins. This is not just the right thing to do, but it will save the camp money in the long run by devoting limited resources to the right measures. Budgeting for the development of proper emergency procedures, operations and trainings by professionals instead of trying to develop these items on their own from online resources can ensure realistic, tailor-made solutions. Budgeting for properly trained and equipped security guards, even if fewer than ideally needed at first, can go a long way. Proper security is something that should be strived for and built upon year after year, not something that can be achieved overnight.

There is much that still can be done between now and the first day of camp. Camp directors must stop burying their heads in the sandbox and develop effective security procedures.

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