Lifeguard auditing in this manner (or any other) is an unproven technique for testing lifeguard vigilance. Although I would say that a snorkel-like straw is a novel approach to placing a fake drowning victim in the water, the child or adult pretending to be a victim is NOT a real victim and may not mimic a drowning victim to the extent necessary to capture the attention of the lifeguard. An inattentive lifeguard would of course miss the "trigger" in the water, but theoretically, so might an attentive lifeguard looking for real victims.
The results of these audits is often poor, which causes the tester to draw a conclusion that calls for understanding the operation of the lifeguard mind and attention. What is worse than doing poorly is that certain lifeguard may begin looking for test subjects in the water (and may consequently do well in the test) but be distracted from scanning for actual victims. In this sense, the audit is a type of intrusion (remember the RID Factor?) that to some degree interferes with the lifeguard's primary responsibility.
People often tell me that the lifeguard's primary responsibility is to recognize victims in the water. This is so, but since this is not a real victim, it is an intrusion since the lifeguard is voluntarily or inadvertently participating in a test or drill.
These archaic and unproven techniques should be discontinued at once and, at the very least, your magazine should prove the opposing and more scientific point of view. There are other ways to test lifeguards that do not distract lifeguards, unfairly evaluate them, and put the public at risk.
Ron Arendas, the Water Safety Guy
Also see my blog at: http://www.watersafetyguy.org/red-shirt-drills-false/
It isn't difficult to monitor the effectiveness of lifeguarding through observation (similar to what you describe as a lifeguard check). For example, I used to observe a lifeguard and count the number of rule violations in the lifeguard's area not seen or enforced by the lifeguard. This makes the observation quantifiable (10 minute time period and the number of unenforced rule violations). Over time, you will be able to determine averages at each station, for each lifeguard, for all lifeguards, etc. You will also be able to see violations that are not routinely enforced by your team. These results can be shared and any lifeguard who does poorly can be immediately remediated.
Another way to test lifeguards is by staging impromptu rescues and demonstrations of first aid/CPR skills for lifeguards on break or during times before or after program hours. Randomly select lifeguards and provide them with a rescue to perform or a first aid scenario to address. To keep lifeguards from stressing out too much all the time they are at work, you could announce a 24 hour testing period every month or two weeks during which random testing will occur.
I like "mock rescues." During in-service training, put lifeguards in towers and practice different rescue situations. Although not a true victim recognition test, it does allow lifeguards to practice rescues in a controlled environment. You can set up some interesting scenarios like a second drowning victim that starts immediately after the first rescue is being responded to.
We used to reenact a famous emergency that occurred at one of the pools where I worked: A lifeguard allows older brother to catch younger brother off the 1-meter board (bad idea). They begin to drown prompting 3 additional family members to enter the water. A 5-person multiple drowning results. How would this be handled by your lifeguards? Obviously, the lifeguard watching the diving board should not have allowed the little brother on the diving board, the big brother to "catch" little brothers, or the family to be poised at the edge of the pool watching the jump. In the real-life situation, the lifeguard goes in, the break lifeguard goes in, and the supervisor goes in. Other lifeguards from adjacent zones wanted to go in as well, but the supervisor stopped the other lifeguards before he went in; they had to provide backup coverage!
Reinacting these scenarios are very instructive; far more valuable than the lifeguard audits. Lifeguards gain experience and understanding from these scenarios that influence their intuitive reactions later when similar real-life rescues occur.
I could go on. I only teach the LGI course now. In my day, however, I ran lots of lifeguard testing that did not interfere with the lifeguards primary responsibilities. In fact, I would tell my lifeguards that they would NEVER be subjected to false-trigger fake rescues while they are on duty. I wanted them to be looking for real victims and not distracted in the least by phoney-baloney victims or silhouettes on the bottom. So that they can be most effective, they need to know that these unfair tests will not be a part of their surveillance responsibilities.
I call upon Ellis and Associates, Aquatics International, Dr. Griffiths, and all others who promote these audits to stop this archaic, unfair, and misleading practice. Quit intruding with these audtis; the job of a lifeguard is difficult enough as it is.