I always felt that ARC lifeguard training should place greater emphasis on surveillance - its methods, implementation, and follow-up training during recertification and challenges.  While it might not be the best idea to make surveillance techniques more specific and rigid, would it not be wise to formally include surveillance as one of the skills to be evaluated during the lifeguard certification course and follow-up trainings?  


I have worked in several aquatic facilities over the years, from small community pools, college campuses, waterparks and military bases to school districts and municipalities. 
Many aquatic facilities allot a good deal of time and effort in training their lifeguards to maintain high surveillance standards, on and off the lifeguard stand, but then there are many other facilities that do not.  Just as a lifeguard's CPR skill competency is tested and retested as a requirement for certification, the lifeguard's competency in surveillance should be tested and retested as well.  Reinforcing surveillance as a fundamental component of the ARC Lifeguarding Course would help prevent management and lifeguard personnel from overlooking or forgetting the importance of consistent and effective surveillance. Considering that the ARC is the most widely recognized and prolific certifying organization for lifeguards, shouldn't the ARC take steps to bolster the segment on surveillance in its training program?   


Please let me know your thoughts. 

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Last summer, I inherited my LG staff at the pool I managed.  Guards were bragging that they had 3 - 5 saves a day.  I didn't understand why the high number of rescues were occurring daily so I set up observation times to review each guard's styles. 

What I found was little-to-no preventative Lifeguarding occurring, setting the stage for the high number of rescues.  I spent the rest of the next 4 weeks reteaching and retraining Preventative LG Practices, which reduced, then eliminated the rescues.

I do not believe the American Red Cross Blitz and Renewal LG classes focus on Preventative practices and may need to reconsider additional time to review this section.

Hey Nancy,


An emphasis on prevention, as you point out, makes a world of difference when it comes to lifeguarding.  The ordeal you experienced as a manager last summer is a great example of how surveillance can drastically increase the preventive capacity of an aquatic facility.  Thank you for sharing your experience.  Over the years, I found that unfortunately, in many facilities, big and small, staff members (often including management personnel) are unaware of the significance of surveillance.  I started this thread hoping that the ARC highlights the significance in their lifeguard course, so that greater numbers of aquatic facilities end up embodying preventive practices in their lifeguarding culture.  


As Dewey points out, however, there are legal and practical challenges for the ARC when implementing a formal emphasis on surveillance techniques.  And as Jim points out, procedures and standards won't do much good if the staff is unmotivated.  And therefore it is really up to management to implement, train and maintain, as you did last summer.  


I still feel, though, more effort should be made to foster a greater awareness of the importance of surveillance beginning with the lifeguard certification course.  Perhaps simply by placing the chapter on surveillance toward the beginning of the manual and an added paragraph or two to make the point?  Do you have any ideas?  It'd be good to hear.  



Chapter 3 of the ARC Lifeguarding manual is "Patron Surveillance".  The chapter is dedicated to discussing the the 4 components of effective surveillance: Victim Recognition, Effective Scanning, Lifeguard Stations and Area of Responsibility.  See page 31-32 for a section on effective scanning and guidelines to follow to perform effective scanning.

The key operative word is preventive, which I think needs much greater emphasis in lifeguarding.  


To use an analogy - our current medical culture is more focused on diagnosing and responding to symptoms once a health problem is apparent. I'm sure medical students are exposed to a chapter or perhaps even an entire course on preventive medicine.  But because an adequate emphasis on prevention is lacking in our current medical culture, individuals as well as our society as a whole experience a great deal of emotional and financial strain. Investing in a culture of prevention with regular and effective screening with follow up corrective action can improve the potential for people to enjoy healthy lives.  But then again, there would be legal and practical difficulties in trying to mandate a medical facility to practice preventive medicine.  And of course, a doctor cannot prevent all health problems. And neither can lifeguards prevent incidents 100%.


However, proper patron surveillance has proven to drastically improve the safety of patrons, just as preventive medicine has proven to greatly increase the health of a population.  My suggestion throughout this thread is to somehow figure out a way to place greater emphasis on surveillance and integrate it into the rest of the course instead of having a stand alone chapter that is often forgotten.  


True, it is a management issue.  It is up to the medical facility to encourage their doctors to practice preventive medicine.  But if preventive medicine is more fully integrated into the culture of med schools, would this not greatly increase the likelihood that a doctor would practice preventive medicine?  


Actually, an ARC course comes to mind that effectively emphasizes and integrates safety into the curriculum - the Learn to Swim Program.  Water Safety Instructors are reminded that educating their students on how to be safe in an aquatics environment is the most important element of a swim lesson.  Imagine an Olympic swimmer slipping while diving into the shallow end of a pool and suffering a spinal injury - leading to tragedy and heartache.  Certainly, there is the human element - people will be people. No one can guarantee that going through the Learn to Swim program will thwart unsafe and foolish behavior, but should that mean we give up on efforts to make improvements?  


And so I repeat myself - a greater emphasis on prevention should be integrated into lifeguarding culture starting at a basic certification course level.  How can this be achieved?  I realize there are many difficulties, but I contend it would be a valuable discussion for professionals in the field of aquatics to engage in.  

I don't necessarily see this as a course issue.  Could there be a greater emphasis placed on teaching preventative lifeguarding?  Probably. 


But just emphasizing it more in the course isn't necessarily the key.  There are three components that we're dealing with in this discussion: 


1)  The lifeguard program.  As Jim points out below, the current material is quite good.  Could it add more case studies?  Sure.  Could it emphasize preventative lifeguarding more?  Maybe.  Could it include more examples that are attention getters for the lifeguard student?  Maybe. 


2)  The facility.  In this thread, we've talked a fair amount about the responsibility that the aquatic facility has in ensuring the lifeguards are providing proper supervision, and are using scanning strategies. 


3)  The instructor.  We haven't talked much about the instructor at this point.  Instead of trying to find ways to emphasize preventative lifeguarding in the manual, maybe we should instead focus on resources that encourage and assist instructors to "push" preventative / proactive lifeguarding in their courses.  A good instructor will already do this...emphasize preventative lifeguarding, identifying case studies for their students to learn from...a marginal or poor instructor - or one that sees teaching lifeguards as a revenue stream only - will not do these things.  How many instructors are there that teach a class or two a year...under the however well-meaning guise of serving the community...that never bother to learn more about their craft?  That doesn't read up on aquatic based research?  Whose last bit of professional development was when they completed their LGI?  They teach their one or two classes and never do anything else with aquatics.  If we want to increase the awareness of preventative lifeguarding, we have to stop dancing around the issue of instructors that are essentially lay-persons and not professionals.   


We can have the best resources and best materials out there.  If our instructors aren't teaching adequately, it doesn't do any good. 

Hello Dewey,


Thank you again for your thoughtful response.  I agree with every point you have made here.  I do not propose that re-orienting the course materials will be a single, sure-proof path to an increase in preventive lifeguarding.  The role of professionals along with proper supervision at the aquatic facilities are all necessary components. 


But I started this thread out of concern for what I have observed over the years.  The majority of aquatic facilities I have worked for are deficient in practicing preventive lifeguarding.  By deficient, I am not imposing any sort of draconian standards - scanning, for example, which should be a basic practice, simply does not take place.  And also from my observations, the majority in supervisory roles fail to encourage their guards to pay attention to the patrons through proper surveillance.  That a large portion of Ellis and Associates' training program is devoted to providing facilities corrective feedback on surveillance methods is telling. 


Unfortunately, many facilities lack the resources to hire lifeguard training professionals.  Furthermore, social stigmas are attached to the lifeguarding profession - a passing, easy, lazy, high school or college occupation.  Or perhaps a stepping stone to bigger and better jobs for even those who work their way up to managing facilities.  Such cultural evaluations of the aquatic profession is reflected in the pay scale.  And career opportunities are limited by the public's perception of the profession. 


I remember visiting a community pool with a single Olympic size pool in Australia - a country where the swimmers are the pop sensation equivalents of rock stars.  It was the best aquatic facility I had ever set foot on.  Sparkling clean facility, professional and courteous staff, attentive lifeguards, including rovers to check blind spots behind bleachers and inside locker rooms.  And at the same time, in typical Australian fashion - super laid back.  Every member of the staff seemed genuinely happy and concerned about the patrons.  After a brief conversation with the manager, I learned that the cultural reception of aquatics is very different in Australia.  Even high school lifeguards are well-respected, better paid, have greater advancement opportunities, and are encouraged to partake in accessible professional training and development programs.  I can't foresee such developments in our own country for the near future - our current political and economic framework does not allow much to trickle down to aquatic facilities.  I do not mean to say, of course, that those of us who do care and are passionate about aquatics should give up.  We should try harder. 


Given the reality, however - with lifeguards lacking a preventive mentality, managers without adequate training, with a loosely-knit professional network that most aquatic facilities have little access to...  Simply put, prevention has not been emphasized in the majority of facilities I have worked at since 1994.  My question has been throughout the thread - what can be done?  I do not mean to attack the ARC course material and jeopardize its relevance.  I bring up ARC because the vast majority of lifeguards are certified through ARC.  Even when I worked a facility that employed E&A standards, the staff was also concurrently trained and certified through ARC.  There is no denying that follow-up training, management, and devoted professionals are integral components of a prevention oriented lifeguard culture.  But wouldn't a greater emphasis toward prevention in the ARC training material function as an effective front-line offensive and defensive measure? 



Thanks for the reference on where to find information on scanning in the Red Cross course book, my problem is not with what is presented, it is good material, in fact it is often used in court rooms to show what Lifeguards should be doing. But the course only spends 70 minutes of lecture on patron surveillance, victim recognition and effective scanning and then that is followed by a 1 hour in water activity which includes a facility tour, lifeguard rotation and an entry and swim component, so the whole hour is not devoted to surveillance and recognition, only a portion of that hour that looks at victim recognition.


Which means we end up with less than 2 hours devoted to probably the single most important lifeguard skill: recognition.  I cannot be sure, but I think this is what Ben was getting at in his original post.

1.  The LG Course; 2.  The facility; and 3. The instructor.  Good observations.


As a new manager in a city facility last summer, I had to re-invent facility procedures.  On several different days, a day care comes to our pool with about 20 swimmers ranging in age from 4 to 12.  Each has a colored wrist band on signifying a level of swimming ability.  


My Guards knew the LG material, we had discussed our stations and what the procedures were, the problem occurred in our facility when the day care staff lagged behind the swimmers and were last in the day care area, not attending to their campers who had already ditched their backpacks and headed for the water without their knowledge.


As the Manager of the facility, I had to take charge of the day care staff, control their swimmers, reiterate the rules through a Q & A session with the entire group, then their swimmers were allowed in the water with their staff in control. 


What we learned was that it's up to facility management to step up procedures and take charge of large groups who are not following facility and contractual rules in order to protect the LG's from having to make unnecessary saves. 


After I addressed the group several times, the problem disappeared.  I also called the Director of the day care facilities and reviewed the contract and situation that arose each time their groups came to our pool.  Basically, their staff were not doing their jobs and thought my LG's and I were going to take over and do their jobs for them. 


Remember it is a priviledge for large groups to come to a pool and they must take charge of their groups to maintain high safety standards.



Great point, Nancy.  Informing user groups and the public about safety rules and behavior most certainly increases the safety standards of a facility.  Thank you for pointing that out.


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