How to Respond in a Crisis

How to Respond in a Crisis

How to Respond in a Crisis

Natural disasters, dog bites, injuries and even death – a crisis at a Campground can take many forms. “A crisis is an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs, an emotionally significant event, a radical change in the status of a person’s life, or a serious endangerment to property in which decisive change for better or worse is impending.”1 When a crisis strikes, how you respond can make all the difference.

Common Mistakes When Responding to a Crisis

It can’t happen to me – lack of a plan.

Good crisis response starts with good planning. Start with the basics – emergency services contact information should be placed multiple places within the park, staff should know when and how to call for help and management should establish positive relationships with police and other emergency service personnel who serve the park or resort. Prioritize the most likely weather events that could impact your park and put a plan in place to respond proactively. Evacuation plans and camper communication plans are essential. Review your grounds, activities and campers and consider common scenarios. Do you cater to the 55 and over crowd? Consider installing Automatic External Defibrillators or AEDs.  Are dogs popular at your park?  Develop a response protocol in event of a dog bite. Are tornados active in your area? Consider an emergency text alert.

Our staff didn’t know what to do – lack of training.

Train staff on emergency procedures. Train staff to identify when communication with a manager is essential. And train staff on when to call 911 for an Ambulance. Here is a video you can share with staff on When to Call an Ambulance.

One of the best reactions I witnessed from campground staff and an owner came during a dog bite incident.  The owner called me, his insurance agent, with this report.

“I was in the front office on a busy summer Saturday when I was alerted to come down to the jumping pad area by staff due to a dog biting a camper. When I arrived, the jumping pad had been shut down and staff had moved the crowd away from the incident and were working together on scene. One staff person was applying first aid to a woman with a blood coming from her face. Another had called 911 and EMS was on the way. Incident report forms were being filled out with the parties involved as well as witnesses. As the owner I stayed and talked with the injured party until she was transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The dog was on leash, well behaved and up to date on his shots. Unfortunately, the woman tripped and fell head face into the dog, startling him and causing him to bite her. She kept saying, ‘It’s not the dog’s fault he bit me, I have vertigo and I fell into the dog, don’t put the dog to sleep.’”

The park owner went on to say that, “after she was transported to the hospital, I had a staff meeting and let everyone know what happened. I told them that if anyone asked about the incident that they should say that a woman startled a dog and was bit, but she is OK and is being taken to the hospital out of an abundance of caution. Staff knows to tell campers to direct any other inquiries to the management. We also have social media policy – no gossiping about Park activities online. At the meeting I reminded everyone of the social media policy and to redirect any further inquiries to management. I am calling you as my insurance agent because I want to make you aware of what happened since there was a serious injury, but I don’t think we need to put in a claim. Please let me know if there is anything else I should do.”

We didn’t know what to say – lack of communication.

Reviewing incidents from onsite or in the media can be a powerful tool to help staff and management understand how their emergency response and crisis communication are essential to crisis response.  The emotional response for some is to freeze, some get excited and others profusely apologize – none of which are desirable.  Your job as a leader is to help your team direct their emotional energy and adrenaline at the time of a crisis. Training will help staff know when to call 911 and how to describe injuries to emergency personnel. Let staff know when, how and who to call for help onsite. Guide them to replace “I’m sorry” or “It’s our fault” with “How are you?” and “Let’s get you help.”

Leadership communication slips ups in a crisis can be glaring. Remember, the emotions of a crisis weigh heavy on everyone, even owners and managers. The park owner in the dog bite incident handled crisis communication well. Crisis Communication Essentials include:

  • Get help and alert authorities as needed to protect people and property.
  • Express empathy and compassion to the victim and follow up on well-being, but don’t apologize. 
  • Communicate directly with all direct stakeholders such as emergency contacts of the victim.
  • Communicate with staff about exactly what can be said to the campers and when to stop talking about the incident. Tell them to direct inquires to one person in management. Tell them not to discuss the incident with family and friends, which feeds the online forum gossip mill.
  • Have a social media policy which outlines that staff cannot discuss park incidents online.
  • Designate one point of contact for all media inquiries. If the media contacts you do not say “No comment,” let them know there will be an official statement from management at a designated time.
  • Seek help to create a crisis communication plan with the media, your website and Facebook page, your staff and campers.

We felt so alone – lack of team.

In times of crisis - gather your team. Look to your staff and your community emergency services for operational support. At Marshall & Sterling we help guide our clients through the crisis communications response, next steps for recovery and to file insurance claims. On an executive level, having a team of professionals that you can work with through a crisis will help provide you the support you need to lead and take sound decisive actions to see your RV Park or Resort through a crisis successfully.  

By Irene Jones, Associate in Risk Management, Campground Insurance Program Manager, Marshall & Sterling Insurance.


1 Safety First A Guide to Crisis Management, D. Bruce Muchnick, Markel Insurance Company
How to Respond in a Crisis