The Evolution of Risk Management 2021

evolution of risk management

A plan only works if people know what it is. That statement from Robin Bowman couldn’t be truer in reflecting the current state of the evolution of risk management in the industry.

As the senior associate at SportRisk, a company focused on offering solutions in recreation risk management, Bowman said risk management is everyone’s responsibility as long as they all know what direction to head.

It’s been a tough job with the past year providing a rollercoaster of ups, downs and unknowns. And that continues to be one of the largest challenges of risk management in 2021. “Having the big unknown of what tomorrow is going to bring was and still is a huge challenge,” said Jeffrey Blumenthal, the assistant director of Operations and Risk Management at the University of South Carolina (USC).

Here’s a look at the evolution of risk management in three areas over the past year:

1. Cleaning

Bowman said while cleaning equipment between users has always been important, it’s taken on a new urgency as a key component of preventing disease spread.

“We know physical activity is vital to physical and mental health, but recreation facilities have the potential to be hotspots for disease transmission,” said Bowman. “Recreation professionals have been challenged with finding ways to provide recreation and fitness activities while protecting the health of their staff and participants.”

At USC, Blumenthal said they introduced 10-minute cleaning times throughout the day for their weight room. Plus, the in-house custodial team revamped their processes to bump up cleaning to a Level One.

Over at the SUNY College at Brockport, sanitation wipes have been part of the facility since 2012. However, Scott Haines, the director of Campus Recreation, said on top of frequent cleaning of all spaces, they also had to shut down the fitness center during the day for a deep clean. “It was something the patrons had to adjust to,” said Haines. “Fortunately, almost everyone understood and was supportive and appreciative of this.”

2. Staffing

A big challenge in the evolution of risk management for Haines when it has come to staff is changing their mindset due to social distancing. “Our department prides ourselves in being engaged with our students,” he said. “We had to rethink engagement and move to being almost completely virtual.”

Training Staff

Staff training has become an even bigger part of risk management. Haines explained they had to change how they trained students, including the way students get certified in CPR/AED and First Aid. They consulted with the American Red Cross to ensure their virtual trainings were consistent with the organization’s expectations.

Blumenthal shared they’ve used a variety of different activities and training methods to test student employee skills. These include:

  • Random dummy drops activated by a radio call.
  • CPR/AED and First Aid labs.
  • EAP-Gram cards for quick skill checks.
  • And more. 

“Our students need to be confident in the skills which we train them on daily through various types of risk management drills and activities — we need our students thinking risk management all the time as safety is the priority,” said Blumenthal.

In fact, Blumenthal said they’ve been seeing a high-degree of buy-in from students. “The attention to detail they have provided to cleaning, enforcing policy and procedure, and brushing up on CPR and First Aid skills to provide the best care has been great to see,” he said. “They have become even more so invested in our mission and values. It’s largely in part due to students as to why we have been able to remain open.”

Rethinking Past Staffing Strategies

Bowman shared with staff being cut, less experienced staff will be available upon returning to campus. One of the keys will be to communicate the risk management plan and its importance.

However, you might not even know what kind of staffing model you will have come summer or fall. Blumenthal said they’ve had to put forward Plan A, B and C of staffing models to stick to the budget. 

And they’ve had to adjust as professional staff, rethinking risk management in many new ways: accessing the building, how often to clean a space, HVAC systems, etc. “Whatever we can do to keep everyone who walks through our doors healthy, safe and comfortable within our facilities, then we will make it happen,” said Blumenthal. 

3. Facility Operations

A large part of the evolution of risk management for Haines came about while working with local county health inspectors. They removed 65 pieces of fitness equipment from the floor and decreased the capacity from 207 to 65 guests plus four staff after meeting with the inspectors. 

“The greatest challenge in working with officials outside of campus recreation has been the interpretation of policies and directives, given they were sometimes vague in order to cover as many programs as possible,” said Haines.

EXTRA CREDIT: Jason zeck, chief risk and compliance officer at UCLA, shares advice on risk management.

Blumenthal has seen large adjustments to sports as well, modifying rules and processes to ensure safety. For example, all participants must:

  • Wear a face covering.
  • Students check in with COVID-19 questions and temperature checks.
  • Fans are to stay six feet apart
  • And more.

Sport adjustments include: in soccer players play in a grid space, and in football each team uses its own ball and you are “down” where you catch the ball.

Other safety measures:

  • Group X utilizes reservations.
  • Outdoor Recreation installed a Headrush Technologies auto-belay device so you don’t need a partner to climb.
  • And more.

One Last Tip: Time for a Review

And even with all of the risk management procedures in place, it doesn’t hurt to get a review. Haines said they’ve hired McGregor and Associates twice in the last 8.5 years to review the department, making adjustments off the audit.

Because the truth is risk management doesn’t start and stop with the beginning and end of a pandemic. It’s key to keep a continual focus on it in this ever-changing world.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made risk management be in the front of our minds for the past year,” said Bowman. “Hopefully, even after the pandemic is under control, we can keep thinking of risk management as a priority.”   

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock

Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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