Whats Up Gator?
In my past agency we used a red "kickball" very large, easy to spot. I did use a 30 second standard, basically we tossed it into the pool from over a fence or other hidden vantage points. Honestly, we are in the land of year round pools outdoors, so in the winter I was finding complacent lap swim guards with twenty layers of clothes, or leaving the stand to watch the pool from the door near the office where the other person was supposed to be watching a counter. I used it simply to see if they would spot it and get to it within 30 seconds, they had the option to try and strip down and go in the water in a suit or fully dressed, sweats, parka, etc... All I cared about was their ability to get to a problem quickly, never really developed a SOP. As for the discpline for not seeing it and getting to it in 30 seconds, we sent them home immediately and took away another shift if they took over 1 minute to see it. Needless to say, we never did the drill when we didn't have the time to fill out their shift if they failed!
Jim, I like your thoughts. I am always impressed with my guards when I cannot physically slip "timmy" in the water because they are scanning so well. What we try to do is slip "timmy" in when they are resetting their 10 second scan. If they are starting their scan to the left, then we put him in on the right and vice versa. Or, we sometimes have a guest conceal him in an innertube at our wave pool and drop him once they get out in the water.
So this discussion begs the question...for guards that know how to watch their water well, how do we test if they are really seeing? Not just moving their heads continuously, but actually perceiving what's in their zone? Right now I go with the "timmy" because I haven't come across anything better.
In a typical flat-water pool, I agree it can be hard to get the mannequin in the water without being seen, but I have no problem with that. If my guards see it before it gets in the water, I know they're being vigilant and the drill has been successful. In other types of facilities, it's easy to get the mannequin in. Tell one person on a lazy river to ignore it when you put it in so it floats into the zone of the next guard (while stationing someone nearby in case a patron notices it), etc. I'll also often place a mannequin in the deep end just before a rotation - this ensures the guards are using a proactive bottom scan before assuming control of their zone.
I value the mannequin drops because I think it's important for staff to realize that a body on the bottom of the pool doesn't always look like a body, and that if they're not sure, they'd better get wet to find out.
I like the shadow doll, because guys with long trunks can hide it up their leg and pull it out once they are in the water. I ask guests in trunks to do it for me. Downfall is during lap swim, the time I think most likely that guards will become inattentive, there is rarely someone in long trunks. To solve this I sometimes inform the guards on duty that I am dropping a doll and to leave it alone, and then I watch the guard coming back from "off rotation time" to see how long it takes to spot it, hopefully during his bottom clear before he ever takes the stand!
I also like the Vigilance Voice technique. If the deck maanger continually approaches guards and has them voice what they are seeing, it teaches them to look better.
Again, I would like to present an opposing point of view.
Red shirt drills, red balls, silhouettes, dolls, etc. are not reliable tests of lifeguard attention during surveillance. When a lifeguard takes longer than you expect to react to one of these items in the pool, he or she make actually be doing a great job of enforcing facility rules and seeking out those behaviors and activities that may truly develop into an injury or submersion incident.
To ensure effective surveillance and attention capture, a lifeguard must hold in mind the behaviors of distressed and drowning victims, the rules to be enforced in his/her area of responsibility, and conditions/activities that might be hazardous or lead to injury. If the lifeguard is scanning without these "controls" in mind, he or she is liable to miss something important. Relying on the activity/behavior to stand out so that it is recognized and identified without "programming" the mind with the "controls" previously described is to relegate victim recognition to "hit-or-miss" attention capture.
If the lifeguard is focusing on the things he or she needs to detect to prevent injuries and make timely rescues, he or she may or may not notice a red ball or a manikin at the bottom of the pool. And if the lifeguard is trying to do well on this sort of test, he or she might be looking for the red ball, etc., which in turn takes some attention away from identifying real trouble.