Prepare for Disaster Now: Four Lessons from Ramah in the Rockies’ 2017 Fire

On August 5th, 2017 at 2:02 AM, a Ramah in the Rockies staff person woke up, smelled smoke, and discovered a fire in the laundry room in the main lodge was out of control. Everyone was accounted for and evacuated, and within hours the building was reduced to ashes. The emergency response was very effective – here are a few lessons learned that might help YOUR camp in the case of an emergency like this:
1. Distribute assets. Ramah lost 13 satellite phones, all internet equipment, camper lists, emergency vests, building and vehicle keys, passports, cash, and other assets that were all stored in the same central “secure” location. Some of these items are critical in emergency situations. And not all safes are fireproof. Likewise, camp vehicles should also be parked in more than one location.
2. Develop an off-site communication strategy. Being able to communicate quickly, frequently, and in great detail with parents and others was essential to Ramah’s successful emergency response. This was only possible because their off-site partners (in this case, the national Ramah office in New York) was able to immediately take over camp’s web site and post “no frills” emergency messages, set up a hotline, etc.
3. Your incident command system must be rote. If there is any confusion among any of the incident commanders about roles and protocols, take the time to make those roles automatic in order to minimize the chance of panic. Standard protocols must be adapted to your particular circumstances.
4. Keep an up to date photo inventory of all buildings, vehicles, and other assets. Working with insurance claims becomes an enormous undertaking after an incident like this, and the process is much more efficient (and potentially financially advantageous) with an accurate inventory. Also, do you have business interruption insurance?
Bottom Line: Prepare now to be sure you are ready for an emergency in the future.

Written by Aron Goldman. Aron is a Mentor with JCamp 180. Aron’s focus areas at JCamp 180 include camper enrollment, recruitment, and retention. He also directs our year-long Enrollment Program. Aron also has experience working as a consultant with grassroots, regional, national, and international organizations in the areas of capacity-building, strategy, and systemic change.

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at