Emergency planning has always been a staple in the diet of the summer camp director, youth recreation director, principal, etc. When parents put their children in our care, it becomes our responsibility to think of all the disasters that can occur so we have multiple plans in place. The American Camp Association provides workshops and articles on Emergency Response Drills for Camps and they help camp directors with Sample Crisis Communications Talking Points. Learn more about crisis communication from the ACA with this Crisis Communications Overview.
Many camps even hire a consultant to come in a review their emergency plan. Daniel Gelineau with Camp and School Consulting is a leading provider and highest quality source for all areas of risk management training and preparation for schools, camps, youth service organizations and recreation programs.
All the planning is necessary to ensure camper safety. The next most important feature is how to reach the families in the event of an emergency. There is software on the market that can help summer camps and youth programs communicate with parents and staff in an emergency.
MySchoolAlerts – free to school and summer camps
Alerts.com created MySchoolAlerts as a way to make their technology available to schools. with support from American Income Life and i-Safe.org. While their web site states that it is only for schools, I confirmed that it is also open to summer camps. They stated that you can have four types of users such as Students, Teachers, Parents and Staff. They support email, text message (SMS), voice call, Instant Message (IM), fax, home phone number, office phone number, and a desktop alerts application. For group alerts they currently support email, text message (SMS) and voice calls. You can manually add members via a text file, add html to your web site for them to join, or send them a link in email. Did I mention that it is free.
- The camp is in control of what/when messages are sent
- The user is in control of how/when to receive the message
- Send Emergency messages such as evacuations, closures – emergency messages are delivered to ALL the enabled delivery methods a user selected.
- Regular Staff or Parent reminders – the MySchoolAlerts allows you to select which audience you want to reach.
Blackboard Connect offers a variety of services depending on the size and mission of your organization. Via computer or phone you can quickly inform your constituents at multiple contact points, including cell phones, home phones, business phones, PDAs/pagers, e-mail accounts, TTY/TDD devices for the hearing impaired, and networked digital signage. Results of the transmission to each recipient are delivered back upon call completion. The Connect-ED service can be integrated with most administrative database systems including most custom systems. This system appears to be oriented to sending voice mails. It was not clear if they also send SMS/text messages.
W.A.R.N. claims to have the most affordable rapid public notification platform available today, allowing even small communities the ability to implement a full hosted and redundant public notification system for just pennies per population or household. Because they are serving large communities and organizations, this service was more expensive than the others described here. It is the system used at our U.C. Berkeley Campus.
ParentREACH gives you the power to deliver messages to thousands in a matter of minutes, through the communication modes of: Fax, E-Mail, Voice, and SMS Text Message. Part of a larger and long standing communications company, Amfax, they have very reasonable pricing plans, and were easy to reach by phone. Send messages immediately or schedule future delivery. You can reate personalized messages in 8 languages and they have templates for predefined scenarios. You can also access ParentREACH from any web browser or touch-tone phone.
Important Considerations When Choosing an Emergency Messaging Service for Summer Camp
- Reliability of message delivery
- Speed, Capacity, Efficiency
- Will you be notified if and how people were reached?
- How easy it is to use?
- If you do not have access to a computer, how will you get your message out?
- Are the fees fixed or based on the number of messages you send out?
- How do the fees work when you may only use the services in the summer or if you only need the services in the event of an emergency? Ideally, may never use their service.
- Where are they located? Do they have redundancy? Will their services work if they are hit by a natural disaster or other emergency?
- If your camps change over every week or so, how hard is it to upload or change out data? You don’t want to tell all you Session 1 parents about an evacuation during Session 3.