School security has been under scrutiny since the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. But now that school's out many area children will be heading for local summer camps where security measures are just as important.
"It's something I take very seriously," said Alice Chapman, chairwoman and founder of the Ely Chapman Education Foundation, which runs a summer camp for children from June through August every year.
She said the camp, based out of the Ely Chapman Center at 403 Scammel St. in Marietta, will host about 75 children every week this year.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Children play under the watchful eye of staff members on the playground at the Betsey Mills Club Thursday afternoon.
"We conduct lock-down drills so the kids will know what to do in case of an emergency," Chapman said. "And we have monthly fire and tornado drills that are required by the state of Ohio. The lock-down drills are not required, but we do them anyway."
She noted the front and back doors of the center are often open during summer months because there is no air conditioning in the hallways or gymnasium, although all classrooms do have air conditioning. The side doors to the facility are kept locked.
"We have someone stationed at a desk in the hall near the entrance and visitors must sign in when they enter the building. Everyone has to wear ID tags, too," Chapman said. "Also the children have to be with a counselor at all times. If they have to take a bathroom break there is always someone monitoring children out in the hallways."
To maintain adequate security, summer camps should:
Assess their security needs annually.
Assess their level of risk and implement improved security precautions. Consulting with experts and/or hiring a security firm to assist in this effort can be very helpful.
Create and implement a policy for handling visitors to the camp property.
Develop a relationship with local law enforcement-police, sheriff's offices, state troopers.
Develop relationships with neighbors-especially if the camp is conducted in a public place.
Make contact with their state's Homeland Security office.
Source: The American Camp Association.
During summer camp field trips the center maintains a ratio of one staff member for every 10 children, and older youths, between the ages of 13 and 15, are also recruited as counselors in training to help the staff keep an eye on younger children.
Asked what security improvements she would like to see at the building, Chapman said a surveillance camera system would be helpful.
"We applied for a grant to put in a camera system and didn't get it, but we're still pursuing cameras," she said. "We are putting in a new wireless public address system now that will allow us to make emergency announcements throughout the building at any time."
Chapman added that if funding became available she would also have air conditioning installed in the hallways and gym so that the front and back doors would not have to be opened on hot summer days.
Security is also a priority during the Marietta Family YMCA's summer camps, according to Y director Suzy Zumwalde.
"One nice thing about the Y is that any member who enters the building has to place their card in a scanner to prove they are a member," she said. "If they're not we question why they're in the building. And we now take photos of all guests as well as pull their driver's license in order to keep track of who's in the building."
Zumwalde said summer camps like the YMCA's Camp WILD and Camp Caterpillar are licensed by the state of Ohio which requires various security measures.
"Parents have to fill out an ID form and write down who's going to pick up their child from camp every day, for example," she said. "And we don't allow children to leave with anyone who's not approved as a pickup person."
The Y isn't equipped with surveillance cameras at this time, but Zumwalde said she is currently considering having a camera system installed.
"We're looking into that for two reasons-to see if anyone is in the building who shouldn't be, but also for safety reasons to monitor our rooms in case someone should have a problem or get hurt while they're here," she said.
Zumwalde also noted that the local Y has the resources of the National YMCA organization at its disposal.
"That's a benefit for us as they can provide a wealth of valuable information and recommendations about providing security for our members," she said. "And after the Connecticut shootings the national group has increased its emailings and communications to give us a heightened awareness that they're available as a resource we can use."
The City of Marietta's free annual summer Swim and Play program runs from 9 to noon daily from Monday through Aug. 2.
"It's a free program, so the number of kids who participate varies from day to day-we may have only 10 some days, and 40 the next," said city recreation director Susan Joyce.
Unlike the Ely Chapman and YMCA programs, the city's summer camp is held in the outdoors, just below the Marietta Aquatic Center, but the staff still tries keep the location as secure as possible.
"It's a little more difficult because we're outside, but the area is fenced in, and the staff keeps an eye on the gate, as well as a daily headcount of the kids attending," Joyce said.
She said there are five trained counselors who oversee the program.
"They also have a manual for the program that includes an emergency action plan," Joyce said. "If there is an emergency they immediately notify 911, then get on the phone and call the children's parents while moving the kids to the nearest place of safety- the aquatic center, where they would stay until the parents or help arrives."
She said another benefit of the summer program being located next to the aquatic center is that trained lifeguards are also available to assist in the event of an emergency.
Joyce added that, during occasional short field trips, parent volunteers are recruited to help keep a close eye on the children.
The Betsey Mills Club on the corner of Putnam and Fourth streets also operates camps through the summer.
"But we have kids here all year long, too, so our security measures are always in place," said Kathy Bartlett, director of the Betsey's Learning Tree program.
She said surveillance cameras are located at every entrance and in every classroom within the facility, and the club exceeds the state-mandated staff-to-children ratios at every age level.
"For example for 3-year-olds the required ratio is 1 to 12, but we use a ratio of 2 to 12," Bartlett said, adding that for 4- and 5-year-olds the state ratio is 1 to 14, but the club uses a 2 to 14 ratio.
She said the same ratios are maintained during summer camp field trips.
"The children always walk in groups and all wear ID tags in case they would get lost-but they never get lost," Bartlett said.
Also, anyone entering the Betsey Mills Club building must check in at the front office.
"And all of our staff members are trained to always be observant of the children and for any adults that should not be in this area. That's a No. 1 priority for us all year long," Bartlett said.