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June 06, 2014 06:05 PM

Keeping Campers Safe During the Storm

Sioux Falls, SD

Hundreds of kids at a Sioux Falls day camp were evacuated to safety during Thursday's severe weather.  Seven buses took 350 campers from the YMCA's Leif Ericson and Tepeetonka programs.  It did not take long for camp directors and counselors to realize the then developing funnel clouds, rain and hail were not to be taken lightly.

Check out photos from Thursday's storms

"We have different tiers of levels.  So, level one, is just kind of a drizzle type of thing.  Level two, a little bit more heavy rain.  Level three, getting the kids to safety and getting them out of harm's way," Nick Stroh, Tepeetonka Camp Director, said.

Stroh said counselors stay in contact with the National Weather Service after the first sign of trouble in the skies.

"With as quick as it came yesterday, we went from 0-3 pretty quick," Stroh said.

The YMCA Director of Camping Operations Mike Murphy called for their Severe Weather Evacuation Plan before the storms hit.  Typically, when this happens, they take campers to shelters, including the YMCA.  However, in an email, Murphy said they did not do this because both sites were in the direct path of the storm.

"We just decided we have to go east to get out of the storm.  Brandon is the next closest town.  I'm actually a teacher there, so I just made a phone call to a principal there and he was more than willing to accommodate our needs," Stroh said.

Not only is physical safety important, counselors also have to think emotional needs.  With campers ranging in ages six to 13, keeping them calm can be just as important.

"We'll maybe even sing songs on the buses.  We have songs and chants to ease the tension a little bit," Stroh said. 

All of the children were safe, however drop off times ended up being up to an hour late.  There were some concerns about getting the word out to parents.  Stroh says the Y typically sends email alerts.

In an email, Murphy said they are working on a new system in order "to communicate with you" in a (more) timely manner.

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