Since 2004 Trackers has led the way in standards of safety for outdoor camps and programs. All lead camp staff are CPR/First AID certified and all staff have passed a fingerprinted background check. We are very selective in our hiring process, choosing mature and competent individuals with profound experience in education.
We appreciate when parents call us to learn more about our safety policies and practices. So feel free to contact us with any questions that may not be addressed here. Below are key questions to ask any camp your family is hoping to participate in this summer. This is what Trackers does to address these most important concerns.
Do you perform fingerprinted background checks for all your staff?
Yes. We Livescan and background check all program staff to ensure they are appropriate for working with children and youth. Our insurance company also double-checks for traffic infractions to ensure clean driving records.
What is the average experience of your instructors?
Our average instructor have an average of two to five years of experience in outdoor education. Plus, this experience has to be relevant (for duties very similar to what they will be responsible for at Trackers). They have to prove to us that they were at the top of their game while accruing their experience. We thoroughly check references. One might ask the question, "How can Trackers require such high end experience?" The answer is: We're simply more fun to work for. Our camps don't go through the motions, we never phone it in, we don't teach out of a pre-made box. We do things that inspire great passion from the kids and adults we work with. We get the best families, campers, and instructors.
How do you interview and choose your instructors?
We have a very unusual round-robin interview process that involves all of our full-time staff (office and teaching staff included!) This means typically between five and seven core Trackers staff have to say "Yes" to an applicant before we hire them. Our teaching staff knows who they need on their team to not only do a good job, but a great one.
Yet this is only Step 1. We bring on seasonal staff as early as possible during the year, providing skills training, on the job assisting work, and more. This gives us the opportunity to systematically observe them teaching several types of activities and program days, all the while continuing the conversation of best fit to find the right place on the team for them.
Do you have safety policies?
Yes! We feel Trackers has one of the best Safety Manuals in the business. It is a living document that we update throughout the year with best practices and new information. Often, people don't understand true risk in many activities because they lack experience. Our policies look at every potential risk and lateral contingency. Ironically, what we do has a lower statistical risk than youth martial arts, dance, sports or gymnastics, yet we feel we focus more on mitigating our hazards than many organizations in those fields.
Trackers is at the forefront of blending "old school" outdoor education with new and leading standards of safety, responsibility and personalized learning. We seek to bring environmental education back to true adventure in the out-of-doors.
Additionally, although we do background checks and have managerial supervision for all programs, it is our policy that adult instructors are never alone with a single student. We follow the "truddy" system (minimum group size of three people) to stay in groups so we can ensure constant supervision and safety of students.
Do you do a risk assessment for sites and activities?
For every activity we do and every site we visit, we put together what we call a "Site and Activity Safety Profile" (referred to internally by Trackers staff as the Dradis Report). It includes key phone numbers for Trackers staff and local emergency services, along with evacuation plans and maps to local medical and emergency facilities. Copies of these are kept in all vehicles and with all key instructors.
This profile also identifies the "Site Safety Leader" - the person with the highest level of safety certification responsible for all risk management at the site and every person in attendance at the site.
Finally, each program coordinator does a thorough evaluation of the hazards and challenges inherent in the site and activities. As a team they outline the best preventive practices for risk management. These are listed and detailed on the sheet. The "Site and Activity Safety Profile" is thoroughly reviewed and consistently discussed by all instructors to be capable of adapting to new information throughout the program.
The latter adaptive aspect is very important. Many risk management policies assume a "one size fits all" approach. At Trackers we feel safety begins with hiring the most competent and experienced staff and allowing them digression to limit activities with safety as the paramount concern.
Do you have trainings for your safety policy?
We do seasonal safety trainings, including intensive driver training. Our driving staff possess a full Commercial Drivers License for any vehicles requiring this. Along with training and assessment by key outside driving programs, key Trackers staff also personally road test all incoming instructors and address best practices for driving. Instructors working near emergency services are required to be up-to-date on first-aid and CPR certifications, including Epi-Pen. If operating in an area more than 40 minutes from emergency services, we require a Wilderness First Responder certification.
Furthermore, we review our safety policies in full, at each training event. But we don't stop there. It's one thing to have policies in place, it's another thing to have a staff that fully understands and assumes responsibility for those policies. We engage all staff in an ongoing dialogue as to "why" these policies exist. They contribute their own thoughts and methods to consistently review and improve them.
Do you do check-ins and audits that assure consistent implementation and improvement of your safety policy?
One of the most unique pieces of Trackers' safety infrastructure happens every morning. It's called "Safety Stand Up Meeting." Every member of the staff takes a turn voicing their thoughts on the upcoming day. They consider their Site Safety Profile, observations of previous days, students who have demonstrated needs for additional attention and much more. We then brainstorm refinements and growth in our strategy. We believe this is the most important thing we do. It prevents our safety policies from becoming something people read in a manual one day and forget the next. At Trackers we understand that overreliance on only policies can lead to someone saying, "But it wasn't in the Handbook!"
"Always expect the unexpected" is a motto Trackers lives by. We choose to see safety as a continuous and intelligent dialogue, always improving based on the real world experience of those responsible for it.
How do your camper groups work?
We feature small groups of 12-14. On very rare occasion we will exceed that due to siblings or friends wanting to be in the same group. The standard ratio is 1 instructor to 6 or 7 students. Two instructors work together to create the most personal experience possible. We constantly account for and monitor all students within our immediate area. And again, even within this direct oversight, we require students to always work with a buddy.
What is your discipline policy?
Recognizing that we have high expectations for the activities in our programs, we have one of the most immediate discipline policies for camps. If a camper is choosing not to listen to directions and work within the expectations set by the instructor, we will ask them to stay home for one day. This allows us to focus on the other campers who are choosing to participate in a positive way. We take personal and quality experiences seriously. We are not babysitters; we are educators bringing real life back to camps.
Please see Our BestCamp Guarantee for information on refunds relating to our discipline policy.
Are your instructors thoroughly trained and experienced in what they're teaching, or do they pull it from a box?
This is always a challenging balance. Many outdoor education programs will do a "survival class" or "tracking" program but the lineage of curriculum is often internet research and boxed programs. At Trackers we do our best to always keep it real.
While our focus is hiring professional environmental educators and not simply skills specialists or recreational guides, we all cross-train together. Our community based training allows individuals to deftly share a strong based of collective knowledge. Trackers instructors get together as a community, on their own time, to blacksmith, track wildlife, practice primitive skills, do homesteading projects and much more. Plus, all the primary founders and directors of Trackers have been thoroughly immersed in the culture of traditional skills and outdoor lore. We make our own bacon, raise our own livestock, plant our own gardens and we believe our animal "trackers" are the some of the best in the world (thus living up to our name).
These same folks then oversee official trainings to continually cross pollinate skill sets throughout our entire staff. This is why when we teach about the life cycle of fish, we actually go fishing (especially removing invasive species like carp or bullfrogs). When we teach about homesteading, we actually make cheese. When we teach about survival skills, we will build functional survival shelters. Our folks aren't armchair or only academic outdoor educators. We walk the talk. We know our stuff because we live it.
Is your organization insured AND bonded?
Trackers is fully insured for liability and we are a licensed and bonded outdoor guide service with the State of Oregon and in California. All the sites we operate in are named as additional insured on our policies. All our vehicles are insured. Our insurance company helps us with vehicle risk management by consistently monitoring the records of driving staff.
What is the average experience of your lead counselors? Were they hired right out of high school/college or do they have life experience?
On top of requiring deft and diverse experience as professional educators, our focus is to work people of great ilk and stature. Within the culture of Trackers we insist on competency, family depth and creativity. We need our instructors to be direct, honest and very clear in their communication process. We have known instructors who demonstrate this quality who are only 20 years old, and likewise often find those who come to us later in life who are equally thoughtful. That said, our average instructor age is generally 3 - 7 years higher than other camps. We look for depth of experience before inviting anyone into our family. The leadership team of Trackers will only work with people we would 100% trust with our own children.
Risk management and good safety policies must be based on well trained, intelligent and competent staff. They need to do more than rely on policies. They need to be a team where every individual takes it upon themselves to focus on awareness for any contingency. We require our people to be incredibly thoughtful and discerning. We ask them to treat your children's well-being as if they were their own.
Hopefully we covered all the questions parents may have about our safety policies. If you have more, feel free to contact us. This is a responsibility we take very seriously and a conversation we are deeply passionate about.