When it comes to your EAP - Don't Blow it!

As we prepare for summer and reexamine our Emergency Action Plans (EAP), I believe the trusty lifeguard whistle should now be scrutinized for its role when a catastrophe strikes. When investigations take place after a drowning or other serious water emergency, the actual use of the whistle often comes into question.  Because the whistle is used in aquatic facilities for a variety of reasons (communications, rule enforcement, emergencies) often there is misuse and miscommunication surrounding this simple piece of equipment.


“Did the Life Guard blow the whistle to initiate the EAP?”

“How many blasts did the Lifeguard blow?”

“Did the staff and patrons hear the whistle?”

“Did the staff and patrons understand the meaning of the blast(s)?”


These are just a few of the questions that arise after an EAP is activated at a facility. My suggestion is that we look for a louder and more effective alternative to the whistle that is used for emergency situations only.


A panic button with loud alarm has been used effectively in many water parks and larger facilities around the world. Simple Air Horns have also been used effectively. Bull Horns with a screeching alarm mode can also be used. And while these new, louder, and more effective alarms for aquatic emergencies may not be able to be placed at every single lifeguard station, I can tell you through personal experience when more effective sounds are used, the Emergency Response is often quicker and more effective.  Whistles will still be required at aquatic facilities for daily communications, but when it comes to real water emergencies, we can do it better!


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Comment by John Tuohy on March 29, 2013 at 8:17am

Short blasts? Long blasts? One, two, three blasts? His blast, her blast, my blast, your blast?....

Blow an air horn! Brilliant Tom.

Comment by Mario Vittone on March 28, 2013 at 9:23am

I agree - an emergency should be communicated with it's own distinct sound, leaving no question about the communication.  In the Coast Guard, nothing sounded like the "SAR Alarm" - you knew if you heard it, you were headed to the aircraft. When the same sound is used to communicate various messages, confusion will always creep in.

Comment by Jim Wheeler on March 27, 2013 at 6:15pm

Good point Tom and Steve, we atarted using airhorns in Walnut Creek in 1976. I have been a huge advocate for them since and most of my client facilities use them still today.

Comment by Tom Griffiths on March 27, 2013 at 1:17pm

Good Thoughts Steve!  It has been my experience that often when an emergency strikes, some lifeguards either can't blow the whistle due to hyperventilation from anxiety or react to the emergency without blowing the whistle, both of which are not optimum outcomes.  Having used a push-button horn in a real life crises before, I can tell you from my first hand experience, it really makes a difference! With an emergency sounding device other than a whistle, everyone in the facility knows that this is a real life-threatening emergency.

Comment by Stephen Keifer on March 27, 2013 at 11:09am

Hey Tom,

Good topic!  I know from my observations visiting pools that a variety of whistle signals are used for the same thing, depending on the pool supervisor.  I also see that most every site I looked at on the internet had a different version of what the whistles meant.  It seems, at minimum, that a consensus decision is needed on what signals are to mean,  I know at one time, that I often lifeguarded at as many as 2-4 different pools a day and they varied from day to day.  It would be very easy to become confused as to what signal to use; especially as some signals are, hopefully, used very infrequently except during drills.

I would think a different signal to indicated an emergency would be advantageous.  It would be different from a whistle and would capture the the other lifeguards' attention; that something unusual was happening.  The signal could sound in other parts of the facility and a flashing light or other signal other than sound that could draw attention to the guard station where it was initiated (and hopefully the approximate location of the emergency and the lifeguard). 

My concern is that the alternate signal actuator would have to be easy to find and initiate. Fumbling for an air horn or bullhorn could cause a delay (especially when they are also having to unwrap their rescue tube from around the chair handrails and moving it so they are no longer resting their feet on it, before they can move.).  I have a natural distrust of any battery operated device in general, as the battery is often not ready for use.  I would also be concerned with what the roving guards would use, if the panic button was mounted on each chair, for instance, a distance away.

I am interested in what others are using and their thoughts.

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