Feature Article - January 2018
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Water Wise

Aquatic Safety Strategies Help Prevent Drowning

By Dave Ramont

There are many good reasons for people to get into the water: entertainment, exercise, relaxation, therapy, rehabilitation, or just cooling off. But of course, water can also prove to be dangerous; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States, with about 10 people dying every day. On average, two of those victims are children aged 14 and under. The CDC also reports that early childhood swim lessons can reduce childhood drowning risk by 88 percent, but that many people don't possess basic swimming skills. Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to helping others learn to swim, and making aquatic facilities safer in general.

Start With the Basics

The American Red Cross created the first national water safety program in the United States, helping to reduce accidental drownings by nearly 90 percent nationwide in the past century. But they're not about to become complacent. "1914 was the year we added drowning prevention to our mission, so when we hit that 100-year point, we really wanted to do something that was very impactful," said Connie Harvey, director of Aquatics Centennial Initiatives for the Red Cross. So they created the Aquatics Centennial Campaign, a multi-year action that aims to teach 50,000 more people to swim, in addition to the 2 million people they already train annually.

Harvey explained how they zeroed in on selected cities where drowning rates were higher than the national average, hoping that by providing more resources they could lower those numbers, and "ensure that families have access to swim lessons that are affordable and available when it makes sense to them. With our swim classes we're always getting them toward water competency."

She said their programs include parent and child, aquatic preschool, learn to swim, and adult lessons. "We think it's important for parents and caregivers to know how to swim if they're going to be supervising their children around water."

Harvey added that the Red Cross want to help create a pathway, especially for those who may not have had the opportunity when they were younger to learn how to swim, to gain the skills and knowledge to become future lifeguards and swim instructors. "The one main concept is about the learn-to-swim lessons; the other part is about building that capacity so that they can create more swim lessons by building more swim instructors and lifeguards, and it's also about water safety for parents and caregivers to include learning CPR. So those are the main pillars of the Centennial Campaign."

Through the campaign, the Red Cross also provides resources to their partners to help them offer their programs at reduced rates.

The National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) is a nonprofit working to create more swimmers and make pools safer. Their mission is "Encouraging healthy living by increasing aquatic activity through education and research." And in 2012, they launched their Step Into Swim Campaign.

Tom Lachocki, chief executive officer at NSPF, said that in the past four years, 35,000 families have gained a more proficient swimmer as a result of the campaign. "Every Step Into Swim donation NSPF receives, plus some we add, we give away to programs that create swimmers. Our goal is to create 1 million swimmers in 10 years."

Lachocki explained that the NSPF works with sponsor and partner, Master Pools Guild, along with other industry leaders, to create grassroots giving. They're also working with Jewish Community Centers and the Angels of America's Fallen, through their Lessons From Lylah program, to ensure the children of fallen military and first responders learn to swim.

"When a child learns to swim, the child is more likely to be proficient in the water," said Lachocki, adding that families with proficient swimmers are twice as likely to buy a pool or join an aquatic facility. "When we create swimmers, we reduce drowning, help more people live happier and healthier lives, and build demand for the pool, spa and aquatics industry."