The Lure of Technology: Can it Improve Pool Safety?
Robert Keig Stallman, Torril Hindmarch, Bente Laakso
In July of 2017, a wrist worn alarm was introduced in Norway, based on the idea that an alarm is sounded and received electronically if a person remains still and underwater for a preset time. This is an interesting invention. Perhaps it can improve safety, in which case it is welcome. We support any contribution to reducing the number of drownings. There are however, two sides to this issue. Several aspects of pool safety are relevant when considering the contribution to safety of any of the several, now available technological devices. (a) Such technology (also e.g. underwater video), was never meant as a substitute for surveillance by caregivers and lifeguards. The most common cause of child drowning is insufficient surveillance from caregivers. For one who cannot swim, the caregiver should be in the water and within arm’s length of the child. (b) When lifeguards are present, both caregiver and guards are responsible. The worst case scenario is when each of these thinks the other has full control. Each becomes less observant. This is common. These technical devices cannot improve safety unless all other preventive measures remain in place, e.g. that lifeguards and caregivers have full surveillance as if such devices were unavailable. Caregivers and guards often change their behavior when these devices are in place. What is won on one side, is lost on the other. Total safety is not increased! (c) During media coverage of wrist alarms in Norway, caregivers and employees said “now we are safer!” Not necessarily! See the discussion above. These comments show that attitudes had changed. The device was overrated. Responsibility had been transferred to the device. (d) The greatest part of safety is prevention. These technical devices are based on the premise that an alarm is sounded or picture displayed AFTER THE FACT rather than before it happens. Prevention has been inadequate. Surveillance has been inadequate. In a well conducted facility, the alarm or picture of a person lying helplessly on the bottom should never appear. It may already be too late! (e) In a pool, surveillance should be focused on the surface and the bottom. Prevention is most effective on the surface, before a potential victim ever reaches the bottom. These technical devices are based on reacting when someone is on the bottom, after it may be too late. The highly experienced guard can see that something is not right, almost predict that something is about to happen. When the alarm sounds, someone has not done their job properly! We wish you all safe swimming. Please think safety. Do not transfer responsibility to either other person(s) or to the gadget. When caregiver and lifeguard both assume 100% responsibility, we have 200% coverage. If the technical device adds a bit more, GREAT!
Citation: Stallman, R.K., Hindnarch, T., and Laakso, B. (2017). The Lure of Technology: Can it Improve Pool Safety? In: Avramidis S. (Ed.). Conference on Near-Death Experiences while Drowning (p. 30). Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA: International Swimming Hall of Fame.
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