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Trains, planes, and automobiles: transporting campers TechnoTrends.

When we are speaking with camps, we ask them: "Do you transport the kids to camp or do their parents drop them off?" If there is a chuckle and a note of glee, then we know that they are one of the camps that has dodged the transportation quagmire. If we hear a silence followed by a sigh, then we will be spending some quality time discussing how software can assist with the transportation task.

When it comes to transportation of campers, it is a bit like dealing with medical information--there is no room for error. A mistake means that a camper has been dropped off at the wrong bus stop or someone forgot to pick up Gretchen, a pleasant ten-year-old girl who just flew in from Germany.

Technology can help and, in particular, management software can play a crucial role in organizing the details, increasing accuracy, saving time, and ultimately, providing better service to the families and campers.

Day Camp Transportation

If you manage a camp that transports your campers (and staff) on a daily basis, there is no question that you actually manage two significant operations: a camp and a transportation business! In the world of day camp transportation, it might also be broken into two segments, door-to-door and bus stops, while some camps combine both elements. These two segments definitely share some common technology requirements, but there are many critical differences as well. Some of the unique technology considerations for door-to-door transportation are discussed below.

Mapping and Bus Assignment

Imagine that you have eight hundred campers from all over the city, fifty buses, bus drivers, and bus counselors. Now, quickly come up with the most efficient way to pick up and drop off the campers. Don't forget the one-way streets and the fact that you want to minimize the number of left turns! Computer software can help in a couple of ways. There are a number of good mapping software alternatives available, including MapPoint, MapQuest, and GeoFinder (ToolBox). Merge the address information from your management software into the mapping software, and you now have a tool that can assist immensely. As Mike Horner, owner and president of Tom Sawyer Camps in Altadena, California, points out, "I export the camper names and addresses from my camp database into GeoFinder and print a color map for each driver with each of their campers marked on the map."

Your management software should also be able to assist in grouping campers into "zones" or similar areas of the city, enabling you to quickly determine the number of buses required for an area and the campers that should go onto those buses. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a little assistance from a large map on your office wall, some pins, and string!

In conjunction with your mapping, you will want to assign campers to specific buses. Your management software should enable you to view specific sessions of campers in one simple screen so that you may assign campers to buses efficiently. Sorting the campers should be flexible and using "drag and drop" functionality is likely the most efficient way to assign a camper to a bus.

You will need to establish an order of pick up/drop off and the approximate times for each. Your management software needs to provide an elegant and simple way to assign the order and approximate times. Ideally, you will be able to establish both the order and times in one screen for all campers.

Whether you have door-to-door transportation or you use bus stops, technology can assist in several other areas.

Bus Changes

As if transporting campers were not difficult enough, throw in the idea that parents may call at any time, day or night, and request a change to their camper's transportation for a given day. Saul Rowen, executive director and owner of Cali-Camp in Malibu, California, notes that, "due to the high number of campers from non-traditional families, campers may need to move from one bus to another in the week--some campers require one pick up location for three days and another location for two days, while others require different buses in different weeks." Rowen and his transportation staff use their management software to process approximately 2,200 bus changes per summer and it is absolutely critical that these changes flow through to bus rosters, change lists and all other transportation reports.

The Bus Roster

Is there a more important report to a transportation coordinator? The roster must accomplish the following--list the campers in the order of pick up/drop off, provide any specific camper details required such as phone numbers, revised addresses, health concerns and medical concerns, display any additional campers for that day, and alert the driver to any absent campers. It needs to do this consistently and accurately, and it should be automatically produced from your software without manual editing. At Cali-Camp, weekly bus rosters automatically identify new campers (i.e., campers starting their first week of the summer), and those families receive a call the prior week, informing them of all the necessary transportation details such as bus arrival time, bus driver, and transportation procedures. As Rowen points out, "This simple output from my software saves enormous time, results in fewer phone calls, and provides superior service to my families."

Your management software saves you time and hassle in a couple of other ways:

* Assist you in deciding if you have space for a camper to register based on the bus availability.

* Provide a list of people authorized (and not authorized!) to pick up each camper.

* Provide a master transportation list, sorted alphabetically, and a master list of bus changes by day to assist the person organizing the bus departure routine.

* Track daily attendance--a good transportation module is a great tool for this need.

* If you have a large number of campers, you may find bar coding an essential tool for bus management.

So, if we have not scared you away from daily bus transportation by now, then you are one of those courageous camp directors willing to take on a good challenge, with the help of software that has transportation-specific capabilities.

Overnight Camp Transportation

While two- to three-hour bus rides tend to be the most popular form of transportation for overnight camps, trains, commercial flights, private planes, cars, and even boats represent some of the other options available to campers. The task at hand requires superior organization and accuracy--you only have so many spots on your buses, and you only have so many available staff to pick up campers at the airport. Is there a better tool than well-designed software to assist with this task?

Preparation

Most camps will require families to complete a transportation form, providing their method and details of arrival and departure. If you have online forms, then this information can seamlessly integrate into your management software. Your software plays a couple of important roles in the preparation, including assigning methods of transportation to each camper, documenting travel particulars, and identifying campers for whom you do not have travel arrangements. Your software should provide you with a list of campers that have not provided transportation details and an easy method of communicating with them such as e-mail. Deb Fennell, director of Windridge Tennis Camp at Teela-Wooket in Roxbury, Vermont, notes, "We are reviewing our transportation closely at least one month prior to camp, using our camp software to produce a list of campers that have not returned their transportation forms and to fill in all of the details required for a successful opening day."

The Day of Arrival

For camp directors, the day of arrival can be exciting and well-organized--or frustrating and anxious. For parents dropping their children off, they want to see a well-run, focused operation to provide them with the courage to drive away and leave their child! When they are greeted by staff that not only can find their camper on a list, but can also introduce them to the counselor and provide a cabin name, that is certainly a good start. If you are really good, have baggage labels ready with the camper's name and bunk listed and just slap the label on the luggage, letting the camper settle in and not worry about her bags. For those campers arriving by plane, send one staff member to the airport with a great flight report with a list of the campers arriving, sorted by day and time of arrival, providing all of the relevant details such as flight number, airline, terminal, etc. Deb Fennell comments, "We have to coordinate flights for 25 percent of our campers on one day--we rely heavily on the flight reports produced from our software to ensure a well-organized day." All of these lists and labels are just one click away with a good database!

So, the next time someone asks you if you are responsible for transporting campers to and from your camp, there is no need for silence and a sigh, let out a chuckle and confidently respond that you transport hundreds of campers, and it is well under control.

Rob Carmichael and Shane Miskin, principals of CampBrain Camp Management Software, have been serving the camp market since 1994. They can be reached at 866-485-8885, info@campbrain.com, or CampBrain's Web site, www.campbrain.com.
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Author:Miskin, Shane
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:1550
Previous Article:Understanding parental expectations and participants' experiences research notes.
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