A Teachable Moment: Travel Safety

| March 16, 2009 | 1 Comment

As teams throughout the country look forward to winter guard championships competitions, spring trips, even the WGI World Championships event, directors are faced with a great responsibility – that of overnight supervision of teenagers.

As educators, we are often presented with opportunities to teach our performers skills that will extend beyond our activity and make an impact throughout their entire lives…from teamwork and leadership to increased flexibility, listening skills and memorization techniques.  You can use your overnight travel as a teachable moment to educate your performers about personal travel safety – skills that will serve them for a lifetime of adventure!

Personal Travel Safety Tips

There is an excellent website that every coach should visit, read and share with their performers.  Police Detective and author Kevin Coffey is a media expert and public speaker on travel safety.  He has appeared on the most popular TV shows teaching the public about travel safety based on real life situations and experiences.

He has 2 documents that you should read and share with students & parents prior to your overnight trips:


Travel Safety Tips for Women Travelers

Here are just a few of the tips mentioned in these documents to get you startedf:

Keep Room Numbers Private:

“There should be privacy for guests checking in: no one should be able to overhear a name, room number or other personal information.” 

And related to this tip:

“Room numbers should be written on the key envelope, not mentioned aloud or inscribed on the key — this way, anyone finding your key won’t have access to your room.”

This is a tip that immediately jumped out at me.  Prior to reading this I never realized that hotel clerks rarely say your room number out loud at the front desk.  Instead, they pass you your key, usually along with a separate piece of paper that lists your room number and they usually point to this paper saying “This is your room number.”  They should NOT say the room number aloud.  The reason being that anyone else standing in the lobby could overhear your room number making it easier to find your room and you later in the evening.

Mr. Coffey even goes as far as to suggest that if the clerk does inadvertantly say your room number out loud you should ask for another room.

For purposes of team supervision it is important that coaches are sensitive to this safety concern as well.  As you distribute keys to students make sure not to announce room numbers to the entire lobby – instead opting as the hotel desk clerk would, to hand students their keys and tell them that the room number is written on the attached piece of paper which they should keep secure and separate from the key (in case the key should get lost).  Or, better yet, find a private location to distribute keys to the team where bystanders cannot overhear the conversations.

Then make sure you keep a list of all student and parent rooms so that you can contact everyone quickly in case of emergency.

Know the Hotel Address and Phone Number

This might seem like a no-brainer…but with all the chaos and commotion associated with a championships trip I thought it deserved mention.  Here’s what Mr. Coffey says:

“Immediately upon check in, get two business cards…with the hotel name and address on them.  Place one by the phone in the room so you know where you are and keep the other on you when you leave so you know where to come back to.  If you get lost, you have the address and phone number handy…”

Better yet – you can avoid having to remember this task by getting all of your important phone numbers and addresses written down and organized prior to leaving the school.  Click Here for a worksheet that will help you remember all the important numbers you should have on hand (scroll down to the heading “Field Trips and Supervision”), then add your hotel information to the back of the page.  Consider taking along the hard-copy of the worksheet AND plugging the numbers into your cell phone as well.  You can also ask students to program the address and phone number of the hotel into their cell phones in case they get separated from the group.

Choosing a Hotel and Requesting Rooms

“Maximize safety and security.  Select a room located between the 4th and 6th floor.  Avoid rooms above the sixth floor – the maximum height that fire-department ladders can reach.  For some fire departments overseas, and within the United States, they do not have equipment to reach hotel floors above the 6th floor.”

“Whenever possible do not accept a hotel on the ground floor that has doors and windows that open to the outside.  Hotels with interior hallways tend to be generally safer.”

Many school systems require or strongly suggest that school groups stay in hotels with interior rooms rather than motels with doors that open to the parking lot.  This certainly makes supervision easier.

Often hotels won’t guarantee which floors your rooms will be located on.  However, don’t be afraid to make it clear that you need your rooms to be all non-smoking and all on the same floor.  Reiterate this need with a phone call the week of your trip to ensure you won’t end up with students scattered on a wide variety of floors or one student room off by itself.  It’s certainly safer if the rooms are in the same location with chaperoning adults in close proximity.

For very large groups you can consider organizing your trip through a student travel company.  These companies often have overnight supervision services as an option you can pay for so that none of your parent chaperones have to stay awake throughout the night.  An attendant from the company can be hired to patrol hallways during the overnight hours.

Other Security Tips

“When inside a hotel room, for whatever length of time always use the deadbolt.  If the room does not have a dad bolt or heavy-duty security clasp but has a chain, twist it to take up the slack before latching it.”

“The door to your room must never be opened by anyone unless the guest is absolutely known.”

“If someone suspicious boards an elevator, exit as soon as possible.”

“If you receive a phone call to your room and the person states they are with the hotel and need to come to your room and repair something, use caution.  Always get the employees name and call the front desk to verify that it was a legitimate employee who called you and they do in fact need to come to your room…”

The tips above may seem like common sense to an adult but to the average teenager with little travel experience, your discussion might just be the awareness they need to stay out of trouble.

On top of these and the many other tips offered by Mr. Coffey, I always remind my students of the following:

  • Never prop room doors open
  • No one except those assigned to the room are permitted to be inside the room without staff permission.
  • Boys are not allowed in girl rooms and vice versa and students are not permitted in staff rooms.
  • Students are not to leave their rooms after lights-out.  In case of emergency they are to call an appointed chaperone or staff member to escort them out of their room.
  • While it might be fun, don’t allow students to create door signs.  These might be cute and might help chaperones identify student rooms – but they also can help criminals identify rooms of teenage girls.  Not a good idea.
  • I personally do not allow students to swim or visit hotel gyms in situations where there is not a lifeguard or gym attendant on duty…even if a parent chaperone is willing to supervise.  The kids may grumble…but it’s only a day or two and in the big picture, safety comes first.
  • Students are NOT to carry any medications (as per school district policy) and medications must be dispensed following school procedures.  I remind both parents AND students of this one in particular.

Finally, make sure to talk to your school administration before leaving for the trip.  Be sure you are aware of all of your school systems recommendations and requirements for trips including how to dispense medication, what to do in case of emergency, how to deal with transportation issues, what type of direct supervision is required of students – especially in cases when you plan to visit a mall or amusement park etc.

Meeting Rooms and Breakfast

Most hotels have meeting or conference rooms that can be reserved, often free of charge.  This will avoid any need for the group to meet in a hotel room.  These are great options for those team meetings, tape or video reviews and morning stretches.  Check with the hotel ahead of time to see if they have a tv or vcr that can be used for video review.  If not, plan to take along your own equipment if possible.

If the hotel offers breakfast you can often ask for it to be served separately in one of the meeting rooms as well.  On several occasions my teams have been required to leave the hotel before breakfast is served in order to make their warm-up times.  If you ask the hotel in advance they may be willing to pack a complimentary breakfast box for students the night before.  If they can’t do this, ask if a parent can stay behind, bring your own paper bags and have the parent fill a bag for each student.  The complimentary breakfast is, after all, included in your room price…and students need to eat!

Trust Your Intuition

In the end, despite our greatest plans, things can go awry.  Be aware of your surroundings, know where your students are, bring along many other chaperones to help you supervise, have your emergency numbers on hand, know cell phone numbers for all parents and performers and trust your intuition!

I’ll close by sharing two stories from my own personal experience.  Many years ago we were attending championships in a small town in rural Virginia.  From all accounts we thought this small town was a very safe place.  Unfortunately, when we stopped at a local fast food place for dinner we encountered some men who made us feel extremely uncomfortable.  My intuition immediately kicked in and said we shouldn’t be there.  If this happens to you, know that you have the power to change your mind.  Simply ask students to get back on the bus, explain later and find another place to eat.

In a similar experience another competition circuit board member and I had booked a hotel the night of a circuit meeting.  Upon arrival we both were concerned with the appearance of the hotel and the surrounding area (and how different it looked from the website!).  In this case we noticed a police officer in the parking lot and decided to ask him if he felt it was a safe place for two young women to stay.  After a short discussion he shared that he would recommend we try somewhere different in another part of town…which we promptly did!  We were so grateful for his advice.  Don’t be afraid to ask if things don’t feel right!  And trust your gut!  Even if it means room charges for late cancellation – nothing is more important than your safety – especially if you’re chaperoning a trip.  Trust your intuition first.  If something like this should happen on a trip – parents will be grateful for your cautious judgement!

There are countless additional tips on Detective Coffey’s website .  Please do not limit your discussion to those listed above.  There is so much more that you can share about avoiding theft, elevator safety, airport safety and choosing a hotel and room.  Granted, you don’t want to scare students before leaving on the trip – especially if it’s the first time they’ve been away from home.  However, you can assure them that problems rarely happen and at the same time give them the information and tools they need to avoid trouble.  Besides, what you’re talking about on this trip will be information that will serve them on trips for the rest of their lives!  What a great opportunity!

The above references to articles and quotes were found on http://www.kevincoffee.com/index.htm March 10, 2009 by Detective Kevin Coffey.

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Category: Performance, Preparation & Travel, Team Management

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

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