Scanning is a surveillance technique used by lifeguards to actively supervise the public in an aquatic environment (e.g., beach, swimming pool, waterpark, etc.). To scan effectively, lifeguards must make broad, continuous visual sweeps of their area of responsibility for recognizing victims and identifying hazardous conditions and practices.
The Mechanics of Scanning
Proper scanning requires the use of the lifeguard’s entire field of vision. Each visual sweep must be broad, emphasizing the peripheral range both up and down and side to side. Utilized in many situations to detect important visual information not being focused on (such as while operating a motor vehicle), peripheral vision can be used by lifeguards to detect the characteristics of distressed and drowning victims as well as the unusual sights that indicate an emergency. Just like driving a car would be impossible without expanding one’s vision to the periphery, proper surveillance of a beach or swimming area cannot be effective without the information obtained using peripheral vision.
As the lifeguard performs each visual sweep in a scanning pattern, his or her head should move in a continuous circular pattern that cuts through the area of responsibility and traces its edges. This moves the lifeguard’s central vision through the area while his or her peripheral vision sweeps from bottom to top, front to back, and side to side, gathering patron information.
Scanning must be continuous, and the scanning pattern should be simple and repeatable. Gaps in scanning, elaborate scanning patterns, and mental activities designed to help the lifeguard stay alert (e.g., looking for patrons of certain ages, with certain hair colors, etc.) can actually become a distraction, interfering with the lifeguard’s capacity to identify real problems. This will be discussed in greater detail in part 2 of this blog.
If the lifeguard detects a problem, his or her central vision, which provides the greatest visual acuity, automatically shifts to the spot to analyze what is going on. This analysis occurs automatically, unconsciously, effortlessly, and early in the perceptual process, followed by focused attention and reaction by the lifeguard based on the situation and the lifeguard’s experience and training.
Making Scanning Meaningful
As lifeguards scan, they must keep in mind two important aspects:
- The characteristics to be identified (e.g., victim behaviors, rule violations, hazards, etc.)
- The points that define the boundaries of each scan. Point-to-point scanning refers to the length (front to back), width (side to side), and depth (bottom to top) of each scan. These points must be included in each visual sweep to avoid missing something important.
Maintaining focus on these aspects makes scanning complete and meaningful. Without this focus (or worse yet, if there is a competing focus such as needing to spot silhouettes at the bottom of the pool or to spell out a letter of the alphabet with each scan), the lifeguard is looking at the water without necessarily the correct purpose or scope.
Timing Each Scan
In lifeguarding, seconds count and scanning needs to be performed in a timely manner. For swimming pools and waterparks, Ellis and Associates International Aquatic Safety & Risk Management Consultants has long maintained the 10/20 Patron Protection Rule, which requires lifeguard recognition of a patron in trouble within 10 seconds followed by access to the victim in 20 seconds. The YMCA uses a similar rule called the 10/10 Reaction, shortening the response time to 10 seconds.
For beaches, the Australian Surf Lifesaving Association uses 30/120 (a 30-second recognition and a 120-second response).
Establishing a time factor for scanning is important so that the lifeguard can measure his or her own effectiveness. If a lifeguard cannot consistently complete a scan of his or her area of responsibility in the time frame established for recognition, he or she should report this to management immediately.
Common Errors Affecting Scanning
Lifeguards and lifeguard management often make the following errors that negatively impact lifeguard surveillance:
- Faulty preparation for duty—Lifeguards sometimes come to work with too little sleep or mental preparation; they may even arrive intoxicated, high, or hung over.
- Improper lifeguard positioning—Lifeguards who are improperly positioned cannot see their entire area due to blind spots, glare, etc.
- Improper rotations/breaks—Rotations and breaks help lifeguards to stay alert. But excessive duty shifts in one station, excessive breaks, or even late rotations can contribute to lifeguard inattentiveness.
- Effects of the sun—Without proper hydration and sun protection, lifeguards can become too “fried” to do their job.