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Feature Article - July 2011

Making Waves

New Strides in Aquatic Safety

By Jessica Royer Ocken


When it comes to aquatic safety, there are more factors to consider than grains of sand on a beach—even if you're not managing a beach. Indoor and outdoor community pools, aquatic centers and lakes boast broad consumer appeal and myriad exercise and entertainment benefits, but keeping these environments safe and healthy requires multifaceted vigilance and organized attention.

Are you exhausted already? We understand. And we're happy to report that after surveying the scene and gathering the latest information about what's new and evolving in the world of water safety, we've discovered a lot out there that can help you create and maintain a safe aquatic landscape. From preventing drowning to training lifeguards, from educating users to keeping your facility healthy, there's an array of options to make your job more manageable. Have a look!

Preventing Drowning

A drowning accident is absolutely the worst-case scenario for any water-based activity center, so it's no wonder that so much interest and innovation are devoted to minimizing these incidents. "Our society and culture seem to continue to move toward less tolerance of hardship to people," said Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF). "With that in mind, lots of attention [is being directed toward] how to minimize preventable accidents, such as drowning."

In some cases, both pools and "dark water" recreation areas (like the swimming lake at summer camp) are turning to technology for assistance with drowning prevention. Computer-based systems like Wahooo, Poseidon and Safety Turtles add a layer of backup protection for lifeguards by sounding the alert any time there's an anomaly in the water, whether it's a swimmer who doesn't resurface or move for awhile or someone splashing frantically to indicate distress.

Some of the systems use cameras trained on the clear water of an indoor or outdoor pool to spot problems, and others track transmitters worn by those using the water. One transmitter-style system works in dark water like lakes and ponds where a camera can't see much, and transmitter-based systems are also helpful for situations where submersion is not intentional and a person in trouble may not generate a lot of splashing—such as with water aerobics or therapy for seniors. (See "A Life-Saving Solution" in the February 2010 issue of Recreation Management, for an example)

A number of YMCAs around the country have adopted these drowning prevention systems over the past decade. The most recent is the YMCA of Birmingham, Ala., which currently has a monitoring system on four of their 17 pools and plans to install three more systems this year. The YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta has 24 systems on 24 pools, with plans to add two more (pools and systems). President and CEO Ed Munster said that they learned of the technology about 11 years ago when an engineer in their pool design group brought it to their attention. They immediately made plans to begin implementing the systems.

And that was some undertaking. The systems can be costly, especially when being retrofitted to an existing pool, but Munster was adamant. "There's no way we were going to have a different quality of care in one location than another, so it was either do it all, or not at all," he said. As for the cost, given the YMCA's mission to serve the community and provide a safe, nurturing environment, he felt adding drowning-prevention technology was simply "the right thing to do.

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