Counselor Training Prevents Tornado Disaster

June 10, 2011 by John Oliver

Tornadoes have been dominating the news as of late... and for good reason. According to data from the National Weather Service, more than 500 people have been killed by tornadoes in 13 different states already this year. Before-and-after photos from Joplin, Missouri show the unimaginable power of a tornado.

With so many sad stories so far in this storm season, we're happy to share a tornado story from one of our customers that ended with a group of summer camp staff and visitors safe and sound.

As part of West Bend's annual summer camp counselor trainings, David Nagel, a senior loss prevention representative, met with a group of counselors from the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis' Flat Rock River Camp in St. Paul, Indiana.

One of the topics of discussion was proper protocol for responding to tornado warnings. During the training a video clip like the one below was shown to emphasize how quick and deadly a storm can be.

Tornado Touches Down 24 Hours Later

Less than 24 hours later the camp was forced to put David's training into practice as a tornado siren sounded. Due, in part, to his training on severe weather policies and tornado preparedness, the staff and children at the Flat Rock River Camp in St. Paul, Indiana are safe and sound today.

"It was so exciting! I couldn't believe that we talked about it yesterday in our safety meeting and we got one today," said Steve Heiny, the camp's executive director. "Everything worked like a charm. Clockwork you might say. Our staff knew just what to do. Visiting teachers were cooperative and now the kids are getting a talk about the need for tornado drills.

We had a thunderstorm warning that turned into a tornado warning in about 10 minutes. We got the kids into the basement as hail started falling. The tornado crossed I-74 between exits 119 and 131. We art at 123. Gulp.

The sun is out now and all is well."

Steve Heiny and his staff run a very safe camp program, and we're confident that his staff would have been prepared for the tornado whether or not David had been there the day before. But this story brings up two important reminders for all organizations, not only summer camps.

Find a New Voice

Every year, West Bend's loss prevention reps visit with thousands of summer camp counselors across the Midwest. In these trainings we touch on the most common and pressing safety-related issues facing the staff. For lifeguards we discuss diligence and scanning, for youth sports counselors we discuss the importance of hydration and concussion prevention, and for summer daycare providers we talk about vehicular hyperthermia and field trip safety.

More often than not the counselors are familiar with many of these ideas... which is exactly what we want! Before the busy summer season starts we want to come in and simply hammer home what is already being discussed in safety meetings and in-service trainings. The benefit of having a trainer from outside of the organization is that employees get to hear the message from a new voice and perspective. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel... focus your energy on developing new and more effective ways of getting the message across.

Keep the Message Fresh

If a training session specifically addressing tornadoes had been conducted a month or two earlier would the staff have reacted as quickly and confidently as they did? Probably not. That's not to say they wouldn't have made all of the right decisions and done everything to protect themselves and their campers, but even a moment of hesitation can make a major impact.

Executing proper safety protocols needs to be second nature, especially when it comes to weather-related disasters. The only way to ensure your staff will be ready for a stressful situation is to establish a permanent culture of safety. Conduct in-service trainings and safety meetings as often as possible!

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