Doug Sackett has had a busy year and a half. “Aquatics took priority,” he says. That’s because he and his staff at the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Community Environmental Health and Food Protection had to develop emergency standards and regulations, train designers and engineers, travel through the state to review older facilities, and do evaluations.
The reason? The notorious cryptosporidium bug made its way into the 11,000 square-foot spraypark at Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva, N.Y. in late summer 2005. The outbreak sickened nearly 3,900 people, made headlines around the world, sparked a class-action lawsuit — and lit a fire under Sackett, assistant director for the bureau.
He and his staff enforced an emergency code requiring all sprayparks to be fitted with an ultraviolet system or switch to a wading pool system. In addition, operators must post signs warning guests with gastrointestinal illnesses not to enter, and put up fences to keep animals out of the spraypark.
The experience taught him many lessons he hopes will spread throughout the industry. “The pool is not just a traditional square anymore,” he says. With new shapes, sizes, depths, features, sprays and the works, “our traditional way of looking at water treatment doesn’t necessarily apply today to provide acceptable water quality.” He advocates separate treatment plants and equipment for each water attraction, rather than have multiple features and pools operate under the same. If one pool is infected, every body of water and every feature could be contaminated, he says.
Sackett is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spearhead a national model pool code. Ideally, he says he’d like to take the best of current codes and pull them together into a national product. Facilities can pick and choose which codes they’d like to implement, or adopt the entire standard.
When he’s not handling a crisis, Sackett is collecting data that may help train lifeguards better for the Red Cross, where he is a member of the lifeguard development team. He took a lifeguarding course to grasp first-hand knowledge what the program was about, though he’s never sat in a lifeguard’s chair. He also serves on the board of directors for the National Swimming Pool Foundation, and is heavily involved with drowning and injury prevention throughout the state of New York.
He calls his job a constant learning process, “making design changes or different regulations to improve overall safety,” he says. “It’s a learning process to stay up with what is happening and anything we can do to react and make it a little bit safer.”