As a part of scanning preparation, lifeguards should be trained in the supervision challenges of the aquatic environment where they plan to work. Minimally, this training should include an orientation to the general and facility-specific characteristics of the aquatic environment, shadowing a seasoned lifeguard to learn effective supervision practices, and oversight on the job with periodic evaluation.
Adapting Scanning to the Environment
Different aquatic environments present unique surveillance challenges.
Open Water Environments
Oceans and waterfronts, for example, can have long shorelines with waves, currents, rising and falling murky water, and unseen obstructions. Scanning these areas may be limited to surveying the beach and surface of the water within an assigned zone.
Fortunately, most participants in open-water environments do less swimming and keep their heads above water much more than in swimming pools. In fact, the murkier and colder the water, the less time participants will be underwater and out of sight (unless snorkeling, etc.).
In contrast, waterparks have isolated catch pools and flumes; winding rivers of slowly moving water; play areas with sprays, fountains, and other obstructions; and wave pools with zero-depth entrances and crowded wave zones. With the exception of winding rivers and wave pools (usually handled with zone coverage), each of these areas is supervised by a single lifeguard who provides total coverage. In some cases, the lifeguard is positioned in a catch pool or next to the flumes of a speed slide to assist participants as they exit.
Swimming pools provide an environment that necessitates effective scanning. Hundreds of participants of differing abilities crowd into the water to enjoy various water-based activities (e.g., swimming, diving, water polo, cooling off and splashing around, etc.). When you factor in the slippery decks, shallow water, deep water, diving boards and play structures, adventurous preschoolers, underwater swimmers, etc., there are literally millions of ways for people to hurt themselves and others in a swimming pool. Through surveillance, rule enforcement, and emergency response, lifeguards prevent injuries and save many lives.
Zoned Total Coverage
Although some promote zone coverage for swimming pool surveillance, true zone coverage is really meant for environments where a single lifeguard cannot see from one end of the total swimming area to the other. The entire area must be divided with overlapping coverage so that the entire area is supervised.
Swimming pools small enough to use total coverage (i.e., a single lifeguard watching the entire pool) during times of low attendance should use a hybrid of zone and total coverage called zoned total coverage during times of high activity when two or more lifeguards are stationed.
Zoned total coverage is a surveillance strategy for swimming pools that combines the elements of classic zone coverage and total coverage. Assigned lifeguards survey the entire pool area or as much of it as they can see (total coverage) while focusing primary attention on the zone nearest them (zone coverage). This creates primary, secondary (overlapping areas) and tertiary areas of the pool to include in each scan.
In each primary zone, the assigned lifeguard actively enforces rules and responds to emergencies. In overlapping areas of primary zones (secondary zones), the assigned lifeguards provide the same level of surveillance but defer emergency response to the lifeguard that recognizes the emergency first and activates the emergency action plan.
The entire pool outside the primary and secondary zones should also be included in each lifeguard’s scan, but this is mainly to detect hazards the primary lifeguard cannot easily see. Rule violations can be enforced by any lifeguard, but emergencies detected outside the primary and secondary zones should be pointed out to the primary lifeguard for response.
Improving Environment-Specific Scanning
Some general techniques for improving lifeguard surveillance include adding lifeguards to reduce the area and/or number of individuals being supervised; repositioning lifeguard stations to be closer to the public and to minimize blind spots and glare; and designating the most appropriate rotation schedule.
- Adding Lifeguards. Lifeguard can be assigned as a rover along the beach, throughout the waterpark, or around the perimeter of the swimming pool, wave pool, or winding river. In addition, lifeguard can be positioned opposite existing stations at a pool, in the surf zone in the ocean or a wave pool, or in a boat at the outer edge of a waterfront swimming area.
- Repositioning the Lifeguard Station. To improve visibility, lifeguard stations can be moved or lifeguards can patrol on foot.
- The Most Appropriate Rotation Schedule. The right number of lifeguards must be deployed and rotated at an appropriate interval. Having too many or too few lifeguards deployed and/or keeping them in one station too long can lead to lapses in coverage.