The Girl Scout motto is "be prepared," and proper preparation is the key to success. An important thing to consider ahead of time, before taking girls out on a trip or to an activity, is an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Volunteers can review their troop’s EAP with girls as a learning experience for them, to the extent it makes sense according to their age and maturity.
For the adult volunteer, however, it is important to think about and document an EAP in the event of an emergency or injury. Think through a scenario of what can go wrong, such as physical injury to a girl, severe weather, fire, intruder, missing girl, or sudden illness. This simple step is invaluable.
The key elements of an effective risk management plan are:
Identify – the type of emergency
- Medical, a member becomes suddenly ill
- Accidental injury, a member is hurt during an activity
- Weather-related crisis or a challenging environment as with backpacking
- Pay attention to the weather so that the activity can be rescheduled if there is a severe storm or weather-related risk
- Fire, become aware of all entrances and exits, and alternative routes out
- Missing or lost member
Mitigate – minimize the damage, injury or time element in seeking help. Know how far the activity is from the closest Emergency Medical Service (EMS)
- If EMS is more than 30 minutes away, an Advanced First Aider should always be present with girls, preferably with Wilderness First aide (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) credentials.
- If EMS is less than 30 minutes away, a General First Aider should be present with girls.
- If more than 200 people at an event, an Advanced First Aider should be added to the General First Aider for every 200 girls.
- Make sure that emergency response vehicles can access the area where you are practicing an activity with girls. If an emergency vehicle cannot access the site, notify either local EMS or parks services or other authorities ahead of time of where you will be, what you will be doing and how many members are with you.
Respond – having confirmed the properly trained first aiders are present
- Immediately engage the first aider to the accident scene involving an illness or injury
- Notify and coordinate the arrival of emergency medical services or law enforcement.
- Contact all relevant parties
- Parents or legal guardians
- Council staff
- Law enforcement
- Property owner or facility manager
Some key components of an effective Emergency Action Plan (EAP) include:
Contact List. A chart, table or simple list for all participants, including adults, with parent and legal guardian contact phone #s as well as key emergency phone #s, in addition to 911, such as the nearest hospital, medical center, law enforcement or emergency transportation
Roles and Responsibilities. A pre-determined and established emergency role assignment, who does what. For example, the leader stays with girls or the injured girl(s) while the co-leader calls for help and coordinates the arrival of emergency help and notifies the parents, or vice versa. Agree on this ahead of time so that you are calm and prepared if the worst occurs. Also think through what you will do if the injured person is one of the adults.
Exit Strategy. Become aware of all emergency exits and/or evacuate plans ahead of time. Identify and communicate alternative exit routes.
Evacuation Meeting Place. Determine and communicate a pre-agreed meeting place should the group become separated or a girl should become lost.
Communication Method. Have a method of emergency communication that works. If camping or backpacking, consider a whistle or horn as an emergency call out. Make sure to inform girls that this is the sound of an emergency. When girls hear this sound, they know to gather to designated spot. If there is cell service at the activity site, save all contact names and numbers, including those for the appropriate authorities, in your mobile phones ahead of time before the activity takes place.
Activity Preparation. Communicate with Council and girls’ parents/guardians about the activity, including details about safety precautions and any appropriate clothing or supplies that may be necessary. Follow council procedures for activity approval, certificates of insurance, and guidelines about girls’ general health examinations. Girls are key to activity planning. Keeping their grade level abilities in mind, encourage girls to take proactive leadership roles in organizing details of the activity.
Review Safety Checkpoints with Instructors. These checkpoints should be reviewed with the vendor, facility, camp or your council as appropriate to determine if the safety checkpoints can be complied with. Take any questions or issues with safety compliance to your council for guidance and next steps.
Itinerary and Key Contacts. Give an itinerary to a contact person at home. Call the contact person upon departure and return. Create a list that includes girls’ parent/guardian contact information, council contacts, and emergency services contacts. Keep this list on hand or post in an easily accessible location. Emergency and parent contact information should be saved to an adult’s mobile phone on the trip and be provided to the contact person at home.
Safety Gear. Safety gear includes clothing and equipment girls will need to safely take part in the activity. These items are necessary to ensure safety. Always opt to take the safety equipment offered by an organization or facility, even if it is not specifically listed here. If the facility offers helmets, always accept the use of helmets for girls.
Required Gear. Required gear simply means the activity-specific gear that girls must have to participate in the activity. For example, skiing – a girl will need to bring or rent skis and poles.
Additional Gear. Additional gear may include items that support a safe and healthy outdoor learning experience. These are items that often make the experience with girls more comfortable. Recommended items, based on Girl Scout experience, include:
- Layers of clothing for wintertime or for activities on or by the water or mountains, where temperatures or wind can change dramatically within a short period of time
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, sun visor, lip balm
- Change of clothes for water-related activities or those involving dirt or mud, such as spelunking
- Comfortable shoes and socks if hiking or spending long days outside, in order to prevent ticks and blisters
- Watch, compass, maps
- Insect repellent
- Towels for waterfront, pool, and paddling activities
- Bottle of drinking water, healthy snacks
- Backpacks—girls carry their own gear and supplies!
Always take additional gear into consideration when planning an outdoor activity or trip in addition to the safety gear required for the specific activity.
Instructor Credibility. Verify instructor knowledge, experience, and maturity. Ensure the volunteers or on-site instructors possess the proper skill set, knowledge, training and certification, or documented experience required to meet your council’s guidelines and as outlined in the specific approved activity.
With respect to instructing and safeguarding children, maturity level and years of experience can positively impact the support needed for volunteers to safeguard girls. For example, while the legal definition of an adult lifeguard is 18, qualified lifeguards of 21 years of age are preferred whenever possible.
General Insurance. Commercial general liability insurance protects the Girl Scout organization. The facility or vendor that hosts your troop event (for example, a riding stable, a hotel, or a bus company) should carry general liability insurance, and auto liability when motor vehicles are involved. A facility that carries valid general liability insurance has almost always been examined for risk by its insurance carrier. If a place does not carry general liability insurance, it’s a red flag. It may not be safe, so it would be best to select another place.
When your council requires you to provide documented evidence of insurance, ask the facility for a certificate of insurance for your records. But be aware that some places do not provide documented evidence of insurance to all customers, or only provide a certificate of insurance when a group is large or if the group plans to pay a certain amount.
If you plan to enter into a written contract with a facility or are considering a new vendor, remember to consult your council for the proper insurance requirements and see if they use an approved vendor list. Check to be sure the certificate of insurance you will be obtaining validates the insurance limits outlined in your contract or agreement.
Activity Accident Insurance. Activity accident insurance is supplemental health insurance that protects registered Girl Scout members. Registered members are automatically covered under activity accident insurance when participating in all Girl Scout events and activities including trips that involve two (or less) overnight stays. The Basic Plan does not cover trips of more than two overnight stays.
Important! Trips that are three overnights or more are not covered under automatic activity accident insurance. Also, non-members are not automatically covered and international trips are not automatically covered. Activity accident insurance must be individually purchased for coverage under these scenarios.
So, you will need to purchase extra activity accident insurance for outings and events that:
- Involve three or more overnight stays
- Take place outside U.S. territory
- Include non-members, such as siblings and friends
When planning trips, always consult your council to see if extra activity accident insurance is needed.
Leave No Trace. Search the web for tips on environmental responsibility, and remember our principle of Leave no trace (scroll down to the “How to Leave No Trace Outdoors” video)—and, in fact, Girl Scouts have a long tradition of leaving an area better than we found it. Doing so will teach girls responsibility and also safeguard your troop and local council from complications or issues involving the use of public property.
Emergency Preparation. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid, emergency response requirements, and other precautions. Know how far away and where emergency medical and law enforcement services are located. Understand your surroundings in relation to the closest medical facility or hospital. Also, familiarize yourself with the forms of emergency communication and emergency transportation options that are available.
Weather Conditions. Always monitor the weather in the days preceding an activity or trip. Check the local weather report on the day of the trip. For circumstances in which forecasted weather could be a risk to safety, consider scheduling alternatives. In the case of severe wind, lightning, hail, ice, snow storm, flood warnings due to heavy rain, or a hurricane or tropical storm, make contingency plans for itineraries and transportation. Reschedule the event if the weather report is severe. Adhere to public safety announcements concerning staying indoors or evacuating the area. In extremely hot weather, girls should do outdoor activities in the morning and late afternoon hours, and during the hottest time of day stay in a shaded area or inside with air conditioning. It is important on extremely hot days to plan for easy access to plenty of drinking water to prevent heat exhaustion or dehydration.
If extreme weather or temperature conditions prevent a trip, be prepared with a backup plan or alternative activity.
Buddy System. Always use the buddy system with all ages of girls, which means pairing girls up as partners. Each girl is responsible for staying with her buddy throughout a trip or activity. A buddy can warn her partner of danger, give a helping hand, or get immediate assistance when the situation warrants it. All girls are encouraged to stay near the group so that if someone is injured or not feeling well, there are others, including an adult, close by to seek help.
- Annual permission slips are parental or legal guardian consent forms for girls’ attendance at regular troop meetings throughout the year. If annual permissions are practiced in your council, in addition to the specific activity permission slips, volunteers should keep copies for all their girls.
- Day trips and activities – It is imperative to secure a signed permission slip from a girl’s parent or guardian for any trip or special activity outside the troop meeting space. This applies to all girls under the age of 18. Always keep a copy of these permissions.
In most cases, one parental consent or one legal guardian is legally acceptable. However, there may be circumstances regarding a custody situation or a standard in your council where dual parental consent is required. For international trips, written consent is generally required from both parents, caregivers, or legal guardians. If there is a question about single versus dual parental consent, please consult your council and they can consult local or state laws for specific local guidance.
Overnight Trips. Prepare girls to be away from home by involving them in the planning so they know what to expect. On trips where male volunteers are part of the group, it is not appropriate for them to sleep in the same space as girl members. Always support and maintain an all-girl atmosphere for sleeping quarters. Men may participate only when separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms are available for their use. Men should not be in situation to walk through girls’ sleeping quarters for entrance, exit or to access restrooms. In some circumstances, such as a museum or mall overnight with hundreds of girls, this type of accommodation may not be possible. If this is the case, men do not supervise girls in the sleeping area of the event and the adult volunteer-to-girl ratio is adjusted accordingly.
An exception is made for family members during events such as parent-daughter or family overnights where one family may sleep together in an area specifically designated to accommodate families. Also please make note of the following:
- Each participant has her own bed.
- Parent/guardian permission must be obtained if girls are to share a bed.
- Girls and adults do not share a bed; however, some councils make exceptions for mothers and daughters.
- It is not mandatory that an adult sleep in the sleeping area (tent, cabin, or designated area) with the girls, but if an adult female does share the sleeping area, there should always be two unrelated adult females present.
Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway. See the Travel/Trip chapter for specific safety checkpoints when utilizing Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway. There are specific steps that must be followed when utilizing these privately owned property rentals, steps that are not necessarily taken with every traditional commercially owned and operated property such as hotels.
Modeling the Right Behavior. Adult volunteers should adhere to the Girl Scout Promise and Law. When spending time with girls or representing Girl Scouts do not consume alcohol, smoke, vape or use foul language. Always obey the law, for example, by not talking on a phone or texting while driving.
Drugs and alcohol. Volunteers and adults may not purchase, consume, possess or be under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs/substances, or prescription or over-the-counter medications which impair performance or judgment while participating in Girl Scout sanctioned activities, in the presence of girls, while conducting Girl Scout business, or in Girl Scout branded clothing. Alcohol or any substance which may impair one’s judgment must never be used by volunteers, adult members, or any other adult in the presence of a girl member, immediately prior to, or during a girl member activity. Alcoholic beverages may be served to/consumed by adults of legal age at Girl Scout events when girls are not present only when previously approved by the Council Board of Directors or Chief Executive Officer.
Firearms. Firearms and/or weapons are prohibited at any Girl Scout activity and on Girl Scout-owned or leased property except when in the possession of a sworn officer of the law, council-authorized property staff, a certified instructor, licensed wildlife control personnel, and/or trained adult while conducting a Council-approved Girl Scout program activity. Volunteers and adults do not carry ammunition or firearms in the presence of girls unless given special permission by your council for target sport activities.
Online Safety. Instruct girls never to put their full names, location or contact information online, engage in virtual conversation with strangers, or arrange in-person meetings with online contacts. On group websites, publish girls’ first names only and never divulge their location or contact information. Teach girls the Girl Scout Internet Safety Pledge and ask them to read, understand, discuss and commit to following it.
Money-Earning Activities. Safety is an important consideration throughout money-earning activities, including Girl Scout Cookie sales and other council-sponsored product sales. During Girl Scout product sales, you are responsible for the safety of girls, money, and products. In addition, a wide variety of organizations, causes, and fundraisers may appeal to Girl Scouts to serve as their labor force. When representing Girl Scouts, girls cannot raise money for other organizations, participate in money-earning activities that represent partisan politics or are not Girl Scout–approved product sales and efforts. It is imperative that Girl Scouts do not partake in anything that can be construed as unrelated business income, in order to protect our organization’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. If there is a questionable circumstance, consult your council.
Volunteer Essentials. A key resource for Volunteers in Girl Scouting is Volunteer Essentials. While Safety Activity Checkpoints focuses on safety guidance and parameters, Volunteer Essentials will address an array of topics such as Engaging Girls and Families, Troop Management, Product Program, Troop Finances, and Leader’s Guide to Success. All Girl Scout Volunteers are instructed to review, understand and practice the principles and standards in both Volunteer Essentials and Safety Activity Checkpoints.