PARKS & RECREATION/Audit shows city how to make pool safer
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Community Schools recently audited the Helen P. Brown Natatorium to assess staffing and other safety factors at the swimming facility. Based on its findings, the district has revised staffing and training levels at the pool, and it has installed a computer-aided drowning detection system.
The school district serves more than 32,000 students, including those at South Side High School, which houses the natatorium. Approximately 4,500 swimmers use the natatorium each week, and the facility hosts regional swim meets and the annual Fort Wayne City Swimming Competition.
The district initiated a safety audit following a December 2000 drowning involving a teen-age student. (The accident occurred when the student re-entered the closed natatorium following a swim class.) “While some facilities might have said, ‘It will never happen again; let’s move on,’ we decided that the incident required a hard look at our facility and a careful review of options and possible changes we needed to make,” explains Thomas Fowler-Finn, superintendent of schools.
“We wanted to make sure that our community of student and city swimmers knew the pool was a safe place to recreate,” he says. “But we also knew it would require work to regain their confidence.” Through an audit, the school district could better understand the factors contributing to the accident and show residents it was willing to make significant changes.
A two-week, independent audit produced valuable information for the district, Fowler-Finn says. “It showed us the optimum number of lifeguards needed to detect and initiate a rescue within 30 seconds or less; the techniques [the lifeguards] should be using to guard swimmers in the pool; and the different ways to manage our entire facility so that it would run smoothly.”
As a result of the audit, the school district hired a new director and assistant director for the natatorium. It also hired additional lifeguards, and it adopted the lifeguard training program of Jeff Ellis & Associates, a Kingwood, Texas-based aquatic safety consultant, to certify its lifeguards. The changes added $140,000 to the district’s annual expenses; the cost is paid through the general operations budget.
In addition to expanding staff and revising training requirements, the district installed a drowning detection system to assist lifeguards in monitoring the natatorium’s pool. (The pool measures 52 meters by 23 meters.) Manufactured by Atlanta-based Poseidon Technologies, the system consists of small, globe-style video cameras installed in water- and chemical-proof housings in the pool walls. Those cameras monitor the pool’s deep end, while additional video cameras, mounted overhead, monitor the shallow end.
The cameras are patched into a computer that analyzes the video in real time. When the computer detects a swimmer who is motionless for more than 10 to 15 seconds, it activates audible and visual alarms at a monitoring station. It notifies lifeguards of a potential victim via beeping/vibrating pagers, and it transmits coordinates of the swimmer to a poolside LCD screen.
At the Helen P. Brown Natatorium, the detection system consists of four underwater and 16 overhead cameras, as well as one poolside LCD screen, all networked into a single computer. The one-time cost of equipment and installation — approximately $100,000 — was covered by the school’s capital projects fund.
“This system knows what a drowning person looks like,” Fowler-Finn says. “It doesn’t do the job [of lifeguarding] for you, but it is a critical measure of protection that helps our people ensure the safety of swimmers.” Fowler-Finn notes that, this year, the school district will install a similar system at the high school’s smaller pool.
The natatorium’s security upgrades — including the operations and technology changes — were in place by December 2001. According to Fowler-Finn, the district is confident that the facility’s safety is top-notch. “We wanted to guarantee the safety levels in the pool far beyond those we could before and beyond, perhaps, what is common in most public schools and facilities in the country,” he says. “We feel that, with all of these changes we’ve made, we have accomplished just that.”