Friday, June 13, 2008

On camps and tornadoes and shelters

In the past 30 hours, I've gone from incredibly sad to incredibly angry.

From all accounts, the scouts and their leaders at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch Boy Scout camp in Iowa did everything they could yesterday when a tornado ripped through the camp. It sounds as though they handled the situation as well as they possibly could have. Many of them ought to be hailed as genuine heroes for their actions in helping take care of each other after a horrific event.

But they were let down by their facility.

From what I've read, all of their buildings had slab floors. There were no underground storm shelters.


I know it's the Boy Scouts. I know they operate on shoestring budgets. Believe me, I understand. I work for the church. But I don't care how little money your organization has...if you're in the midwest, and you don't have the money to have an underground storm shelter, you don't build the camp. There's a reason they call it Tornado Alley in this part of the country, for crying out loud!

I was a camper and later a counselor and sorta "middle management" for Camp Carol Joy Holling, a Lutheran church camp near Ashland...all told I spent the entirety of 5 summers there on staff, and 6 other partial summers as a camper. I was a counselor during the infamous summer of 1993, with all the floods and severe weather. This camp depends on the church for its funding...not exactly a cash cow. But it does have underground storm shelters for all its campers on all its various sites. To hear of what happened in Iowa just absolutely rips my heart out, because it frickin' didn't have to happen.

The kids that were killed--and many of the kids that were injured--it wasn't because they were caught outside hiking. They were prepared. They had taken shelter. They were inside a building.

But their shelter let them down.

I love kids. I think the ministry that comes from camping can be some of the most life-changing stuff God has to offer. I don't get mad very often. But I'm hopping mad right now, because what should have been just a scary close call ended up killing and injuring kids. And it didn't have to be that way.

So, what to do?

If you're a parent, I urge you to make sure that any camp you send your kids to is ACA (American Camping Association) accredited. There's pretty stringent guidelines that camps have to follow to receive their accreditation, one of which is ensuring adequate underground storm shelters.

And if there's a camp that you support or send your kids to that isn't ACA-accredited, ask their board of directors why not. And then offer your support--whether it be in labor, money, or both. Even if you don't pick up a shovel to directly dig a shelter, any volunteering you do for them is money saved for them that they can spend in other storm shelters.

As a camp staffer, you follow a hierarchy of needs similar to Maslow's. First and foremost, you ensure your campers' safety. If that's taken care of, then you can attend to their comfort. Once you've done that, then your campers are in a position where you can help them grow.

It's easy, and tempting, especially when budgets are tight and you rely on the giving and goodwill of others, to skimp or cut corners on the first and focus on the second two.

But that's unacceptable.

Lives change at camp. Camping has been a BIG part of my life for many years. I met Sweetie working at camp. I count many of the folks who run Camp Carol Joy Holling as close friends. I have supported that camp in many, many ways over a number of years.

But I still maintain...if as a camp, especially in the Midwest, you're not able to provide underground storm shelter, you ought not to be operating until you can.




Anonymous said...

Ooof - bold words, and true throughout. I hadn't really considered it this way just yet. You're absolutely right about this, Matt - thanks.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

good advice for parents...

I always wonder about home owners who have no basements... of course here I am in a parsonage, in torando alley that has a basement which offers little protection, due to the structure of the house. Basically the basement makes it a 3 story home... nearly all above ground. eek...