Emergency Action Plans

By John Engh

Early in 2018, I asked some key staff members what they thought were the biggest challenges facing youth-sports administrators in today’s world. We went beyond the typical talk about dealing with overzealous parents and coaches and started to really dig into some real issues in a very practical way.


After a long meeting and compiling quite a significant list, we found that one of the most eye-opening issues was a lack of consistency in emergency-action plans. In the past, most of the discussion regarding emergencies dealt with either injuries on the field or inclement weather.

An emergency involving someone looking to do harm to other people is not standard practice in the youth-sports world. But sadly, it’s a topic that must be on every administrator’s radar these days.

Eye-Opening Experience
This really hit home for me a couple years ago at our annual Youth Sports Congress. Usually, all the sessions run at about 100-percent attendance, since most of the attendees are there to pick up credits to update their certification. But on this particular day, there were quite a few people missing. As it turned out, there was another educational session running at the same time titled, “Dealing with an Active Shooter,” and many of the youth-sports administrators felt compelled to be there.

This may have been one of the key motivators to create the Quality Sports Provider designation last year (free and open to any organization to apply for). The idea is that many parents assume that since their children are playing on well-maintained public fields, the kids are safe. And while that is true most of the time, we have to be as prepared as possible for the worst-case scenarios.

Be Prepared
That is why one of the tenets for earning the Quality Sports Provider designation is not only to have standard emergency-action plans that address common challenges, but also to have written policies and documented plans for dealing with other emergencies that can strike a youth-sports program at any time.

Coaches must fully understand the program’s plan for handling emergencies in order to avoid a scenario that may spin out of control and jeopardize additional lives.

It’s exactly that approach the city of Davenport Parks and Recreation Department staff in Iowa has taken. It has put together a comprehensive, emergency-action-plan policy book that covers everything from assaults and bomb threats to suspicious objects and a missing child, among many others.

“We have this policy book at all sites,” says Theresa Hauman, the senior recreation manager for the city and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. “They are also given to each coach and are available on our website.”

And since its facilities are near a municipal airport used by all types of aircraft, the department has plans for dealing with a plane crash that may require participants and spectators to take shelter or evacuate the area.

That’s impressive work and indicative of the type of proactive mindset that youth-sports administrators must operate within their programs these days. The Davenport staff reviews the policies yearly, as well as when updates are added.

What Others Are Doing
Let’s hear from some other youth-sports administrators on how they handle this situation:

Eduardo Martinez, Acting Park, Recreation and Open Spaces Manager IV for Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces: Most of our facilities, including pools, use the Thor Guard lightning warning systems. In the event horns go off, staff will ensure that everyone seeks immediate shelter until the all-clear [is given]. We have also had instances where we had to lock down our recreation centers and offices due to police activity. When this happens, no one is allowed in or out—including staff members. Patrons in the park are asked to leave for their safety. Just recently at my former facility, there was an active shooter situation in which staff had to lock down offices and secure the park, and schools in the area were locked down. As far as medical emergencies, some facilities have an AED and a staff trained to use it. For our programming sites, staff is required to have CPR and first-aid training. And when in doubt—call 911. Most of our facilities are within a five-minute response from the fire-rescue department.

Jeffrey Bernstein, Director of Simply Sports: In any outdoor program we have, coaches review and discuss a dangerous-weather plan at the beginning of the day so everyone knows their responsibilities. Our coaches are CPR/first-aid trained in order to attend to any emergency and are prepared to call 911. Game-day violence is the one area we need to make sure we have a better plan in place for; as of now, we try to separate and call 911 if possible.

John Engh is executive director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at jengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS Member Organization, visit www.nays.org, email nays@nays.org or call (800) 729-2057.