There’s a certain irony that the man many believe revolutionized risk management did so by taking a big risk himself. Jeff Ellis, the 55-year-old founder of the Kingwood, Texas-based Ellis & Associates, took that risk by challenging long-held beliefs from the moment he came onto the scene.
Formed in 1984, Ellis & Associates served as a consulting and training company for lifeguards. But Ellis, who had trained with the Red Cross, took a hard look at the lifeguarding standards of the time — and changed them.
Ellis’ method put lifeguards in full accountability for their positions. The result was so effective at reducing drownings that insurance companies required facilities to sign on with E&A. He kept track of every incident in each of his facilities to help monitor the risk factor and find solutions.
His latest lifeguard standard: the 10/20 rule. A lifeguard should see a drowning victim within the first 10 seconds of distress, and rescue him or her within the next 20 seconds.
Ellis is not afraid of testing the extraordinary if the method will make lifesaving even more effective. His ways have often been challenged by others in the industry — but he proved many of his ideas worthwhile and effective.
Ellis’ most recent, and controversial, promotion is the use of a “third eye” for the lifeguard. A computerized third eye, that is. Forming a partnership with Poseidon Technologies, Ellis implemented drowning detection systems in several of his facilities. His opponents say the technology will replace lifeguards or cause them to be lazier on the job. His view: to have the best there is to prevent drowning.
He has also been widely criticized for profiting from his work, but some experts agree his efforts have revolutionized lifeguarding and significantly reduced the number of incidents at facilities. In addition, his methods have become standard techniques practiced at waterparks and even in municipal and community pools.
Today, about 80 percent of U.S. waterparks use Ellis & Associates for lifeguard training. It’s also used in 800 pool facilities in 42 states and seven countries.