Youth Seeking Shelter from Storm Killed by Fallen Tree

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As camp season is winding down, there are many takeaways that we can all learn from. The benefit of the off-season is the ability to prepare your facilities and operations to make next summer an even better camp season.

The following article highlights two boys who sought shelter during a storm this summer, and one of them was killed by a fallen tree.

There are many unknowns regarding this incident, but this article can bring awareness to important factors that should be considered. Based on what we know from the article, we have identified two learnings that you can focus on in the coming months while preparing for next camp season.

Article

Boy seeking shelter from storm killed by falling tree at camp in [town].

The storm parked itself over the [town] area around 3:45 p.m. Monday, snarling traffic, darkening the skies over northern [town] and sending the [name] camp scurrying for shelter.

Then tragedy struck. In winds that neared 50 mph, a weakened tree snapped, authorities said, crashing onto a platform tent where two youth were huddled.

The tent offered no protection, and a 14-year-old boy attending a week-long camp was struck in the head and the chest. In a news conference that took place in the remnants of the rain, authorities said he died of blunt-force trauma.

“I think there was some sort of weather alert and the rain had started and I think they were making their way back to the tent, and he and his tent mate were actually in the tent together,” investigator [name] of the [town] County Sheriff’s Office told reporters.

“I can’t even imagine what the leader and the rest of the camp is going through right now, let alone the parents, who are that far away from their child. I wouldn’t even be able to put that into words.”

The second youth in the tent managed to crawl out, uninjured.

“This is a very difficult time for our camp family,” the [town]-area council of [name] of [town] said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to the victim and his family, and we will support them in any way that we can. Please join us in keeping all those affected in your thoughts and prayers.”

Authorities were investigating the incident. [Name] camp, a 1,300-acre facility in [town], more than 30 miles east of [town], has not provided details of its severe weather policies, and it is unclear whether the boys — or whoever was in charge of them at the time — were abiding by them.

No one else at the camp was injured during the storm.

Authorities have not released the name of the boy, saying they are trying to notify his family. The youth was from the [town] area, according to [town] [television station] affiliate [television station].

[Name] camp bills itself as a “modern camping experience like nothing you’ve ever seen.” Its amenities include a swimming pool, WiFi, air-conditioned dining hall and permanent, two-cot tents set on platforms similar to ones used during World War II. Youth can play on the human foosball court or ride the camp’s zip line.

Overnight camps were scheduled for every week in June. Authorities did not say how many youth were at the camp at the time of the incident. According to [town] Fox affiliate [television station], the week-long camps are structured much like classes, with youth working to earn merit badges on skills that include swimming, canoeing, riflery and handicrafts. Evening hours are busy with events, games and campfires.

[Town] was never under a severe thunderstorm warning, despite wind gusts strong enough to bring down weak trees, [television station] reported.

In [name] County, [town] said, first responders were dealing with as many as 50 trees that fell in just a few hours.

It is unclear whether the camp — or whoever was in charge of them at the time — were abiding by bad-weather rules.

Key Takeaways

What we do know:

  • At the time of the incident, there was a severe rainstorm with winds blowing at nearly 50mph.
  • Two of the boys sought shelter under a tent.
  • One boy died of blunt-force trauma from a fallen tree, and the other escaped.
  • No one else at the camp was injured.
  • The condition of the fallen tree was described as, “weak”.
  • First responders dealt with approx. 50 other trees that had fallen within the same hour at the incident.

Here's what we don't know:

  • The nature of the camp's severe-weather policies were unknown, and it was unclear whether campers and counselors were abiding by them in the moments leading up to the incident.
  • The proximity of other campers and counselors, (aside from the other boy who was in the tent).
  • Whether adequate shelter was nearby/available to the boys.
  • The extent of the tree's damage or weakness prior to the storm.
  • Whether any tree maintenance plan had been in place, and properly implemented.

What we can learn:

Emergency action plans for inclement weather are vital.

Although we don't know if an EAP was in place or practiced at this facility, we do know that it's important to adjust and practice your EAP during the offseason.

  • Staff needs to stay on top of weather forecasts and plan accordingly, especially when coordinating outdoor programming.
  • It is the responsibility of youth-serving organizations to develop and implement severe/inclement weather procedures, to practice them periodically and to communicate them to campers as well as staff.
  • During the offseason, work to solidify your emergency action plan and plan to practice it with your staff during camp training week.

Tree maintenance is a part of facility upkeep.

  • Trees can become weakened due to: Blights, fungal infections or damage from bugs and age.
  • Periodic consultation with a professional arborist or forester is imperative, as well as utilizing the services of trusted tree care professionals in order to maintain the health of the trees.
  • As a general precaution, staff should do regular visual inspections of the tree canopy around camp and program areas and inform leadership about areas of concern.
  • Document inspections and take preventative precautions to demonstrate that you took every measure possible to reduce the likelihood of an incident. When documenting, remember to include the dates of consultations, as well as detailed accounts of any actions taken.
  • Damaged limbs may fall for a number of reasons such as strong winds or heavy ice and they can also fall for no apparent reason at all, on a calm sunny day.
  • Keep in mind that poorly managed forests also intensify the damage a wildfire will cause.
  • During off season, work to develop a tree management plan for the year. If budget is a concern, you can connect with the local state extension office of the Agricultural College, the Nature Conservancy or the Arbor Day Foundation to find an arborist that can come to your facility.

Although incidents like the one above can be difficult to anticipate, we can still ensure that we are doing everything we can to eliminate risks like removing damaged trees, and putting the right emergency protocols in place–to prevent tragedies like these before they happen.

You can find more resources: http://www.redwoodsgroup.com/crisis-webinar/

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tips, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about risk management issues.

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