Guest Column - October 2014
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'RESPECT' the Water
New Drowning Prevention Campaign Encourages Water Safety

By Juliene Hefter, MSOLQ, AFOI

Google the words "pool drowning," and you'll find thousands of news articles chronicling the tragic and heartbreaking deaths of children and adults in public and private swimming pools.

That's because 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two of those 10 are children under 14 years old. What's more, drowning ranks fifth among the causes of all unintentional deaths in the United States, claiming males as the vast majority of victims.

As an aquatics facility operator, you might have taken every precaution possible to guard against a drowning incident in one of your pools, but none of those efforts can prevent a patron from drowning in a non-lifeguarded backyard pool, hotel pool, lake, pond or stream.

Enter RESPECT, a new drowning prevention campaign created by the Association of Aquatic Professionals. The campaign's objective is to encourage water safety practices whenever patrons are in or near any body of water—not just your facility's water.

An acronym for Recognition, Education, Supervision, Physical barriers, Expectation, Communication and Training, RESPECT stresses the importance of understanding why and when drowning occurs, identifying at-risk populations and dispelling myths about what a swimmer in trouble looks like. This is valuable information for everyone, and PowerPoint presentations developed by professional facility operators who have trained thousands of lifeguards target multiple user groups, including swimming-lesson students and their parents and grandparents, as well as caregivers, babysitters and other people who may be present during pool activity.

As a result, aquatic facilities (which often already serve as social hubs in their communities) can establish themselves as a leading water safety resource by providing tools to educate their patrons and other residents about how to prevent drowning.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find Out What It Means to Me

Let's break down the acronym and explore what each word of the RESPECT program means for your facility and patrons:

  • Recognition: Anybody in or near a pool should be able to recognize the signs of a non-swimmer, a tired swimmer, a swimmer in distress and a swimmer on the verge of drowning. Your facility can use swimming lessons as the perfect opportunity to teach about the signals to look for, and then post descriptions and images for all pool patrons.
  • Education: Education means understanding that drowning threatens anyone, anywhere and at any time. Swimmers must know the environment, the conditions and the hazards. Explain why novice swimmers are not allowed in the deep end of your pools, and why only one person at a time can go down the waterslide. Giving patrons reasons for your rules will aid in their recognition and education.
  • Supervision: A child in the water should be a parent's or guardian's main priority, period. No reading, no smartphone, no distraction.
  • Physical Barriers: Fencing and locking gates are the law for backyards with pools, and pool covers and alarms preventing unguarded access are a must. Ask patrons who also swim at private residences if the fence around those pools is tall enough to prevent climbing, and if gates shut and lock automatically. Do the homeowners know how to swim or administer CPR, an action that is the best chance of survival until paramedics arrive? Are a rescue pole and buoy nearby? If an emergency does occur in a backyard pool, do your patrons know to use that equipment first, rather than jump in and try to help. Two victims are much more difficult to rescue than one.
  • Expectation: Tell your patrons to understand the risks of swimming and to know the physical limitations of themselves and their loved ones.
  • Communication: This means everyone in and around the water should know the pool rules, including which activities are permissible and which ones are not. Most importantly, be sure to tell them why such rules are in place.
  • Training: Encourage backyard swimmers to have a water safety plan, discuss and practice what to do in case of a water emergency, and make sure everyone in and around the pool knows how to swim.

We're All in This Together

It's also a good idea to stress to patrons that even though you and your staff have taken all necessary precautions to keep swimmers safe, you need their help to create a safe environment for all. Urge them to read posted pool rules and take note of where flotation devices and automated external defibrillators are located. Should an emergency occur, they might need to locate those items quickly.

In addition to the PowerPoint presentation, a powerful seven-minute video anchors the RESPECT program. Details about this campaign are expected to be available on the AOAP website ( this fall and will include a link to the video, as well as the option for facility operators to purchase a copy.

As Dr. Mark Gamber, EMS medical director at The Medical Center of Plano, Texas, says in the video: "We need your help to stop drowning."

Juliene Hefter, MSOLQ, AFOI, is an aquatics safety expert and executive director/CEO of the Association of Aquatic Professionals. She is former deputy director of the Wisconsin Park & Recreation Association, a renowned speaker and author on a variety of management and administrative topics, and provides aquatics-related consulting and expert-witness services.