Although there is snow on the ground, and an ice storm predicted tonight, that does not mean that it is time to postpone spring maintenance issues. Even in places like balmy San Diego, maintenance is still important--there are just more nice days to take care of it!
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for issues in the challenge course world, including maintenance. The best thing to do for any course is to consult with the qualified professional who inspects and maintains your course, and draw up a plan specific to your needs. Factors to consider in putting together a plan for maintenance are:
· Location--indoor, outdoor, near the ocean
· Construction--on trees, poles, or both if it is outdoors
· Usage--only three weeks in summer, or four times a week year round
· Climate--soil type and other environmental influences
Standards call for an annual inspection of the physical structure by a qualified challenge course professional. What you and I look at on a frequent basis, we cease to see in great detail, so bringing in an outside set of eyes is common sense. A qualified professional also will be aware of any changes in hardware standards or practices that affect a course. An inspection needs to be scheduled months in advance, particularly if you are looking at a time frame in May or June, because it tends to be a popular inspection time. If you have not already scheduled an inspection for 2008, now is the time! When you receive the written report, ask questions to make sure you understand it, make recommended repairs, and keep it handy for reference purposes.
In addition to the annual inspection, course owners who have elements built in trees often seek help from a professional arborist. The time to develop the relationship with an arborist is before a storm hits, so you can be prepared if the necessity develops. Or, if you are a part of a larger organization, there may be an arborist on staff or already on retainer.
Beyond the annual professional inspection, a system of regular in-house inspections by staff members also is necessary. Some items should be evaluated before every course use while others will be inspected at a variety of intervals. Documentation of such check-ups also should be part of the system. To set up the system, ask for help from a professional so that you can be sure you are covering all aspects of the course. These inspections will include gear and portable elements, as well as permanent structures.
Skills need maintenance as well. While you are going over the physical aspects of your course, do not forget to plan to update the skills of existing staff and schedule training for new staff. We in the challenge course industry do not have a tremendous amount of hard data on accidents and their causes, but we know that generally speaking, properly used equipment does not fail, but human error can cause a host of problems. The best defense against incidents on your course is to have a well-trained staff, and to keep up with the knowledge base in the field.
Maintenance also has budgetary considerations for the annual inspection, repairs and replacement of equipment. Make sure your budget figures are current and sufficient funds are allocated for necessary maintenance. For example, there is a lot of equipment that accompanies the challenge course, such as harnesses, ropes and carabiners, so make sure you are up-to-date on what needs replacing, what might need replacement during the season, and what needs to be budgeted for replacement next year. Gear often comes with a manufacturers’ recommendation as to retirement, and there are guidelines in other places as to retirement criteria. After all, a challenge course that is improperly maintained, or a staff that is poorly trained, is an invitation for future issues.
Access to a well-run and properly administered challenge course program can be a huge asset to your community, whether it is a geographical community, camp or other organization. Like all valuable commodities, it is worthy of proper care. Check policies and procedures to ensure that yours are in line with best practices in the industry for maintenance of all kinds. Then, make the requisite changes so that you can sleep well, knowing you have done what you can do in the best possible way to run a quality program.
Sylvia Dresser serves as the Executive Director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology. She can be reached at Sylvia@acctinfo.org or 847-945-6095. For more information about ACCT, visit www.acctinfo.org.