I was a pool technician at 14 years old and a lifeguard at 15. I worked my way through high school and college at a local waterpark. One day, as the director of operations, I found myself in a situation where a guest was rescued from a pool and we had to administer CPR.

It was one of the defining moments in my life.

This guest had a medical condition and no matter what we did, he wasn’t going to survive. But that situation stuck with me. I wanted to prepare lifeguards for those moments, to prepare facilities to be ready for handling a tough situation and, where possible, to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

After college, I became general manager of a waterpark in Arizona. At that time, waterparks were having a tough time securing insurance and I presented our program to our insurance company so they could see that we were employing the very best safety practices. That opportunity helped us maintain our insurance coverage, and I started focusing on not just managing a large outdoor waterpark, but returning to risk management on a wider scale.

Recreational waterborne illnesses can come in many forms, and though I haven’t had to deal with a confirmed case, being prepared for one is an important part of a facility’s safety program. Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen my share of claims of illness and have learned to develop a tailored program.

In general, our preparedness plan includes a few elements that have helped to not only prevent an incident, but also to validate our water quality program. When we receive a call or complaint of illness, we immediately take action. We check our water quality logs to see that pools are within pool code parameters during the time the guest was present; see if other complaints have come in for a similar time frame; find out if the illness the guest is claiming is, in fact, diagnosed by a physician and that the test for illness is a qualified test; see if the incubation time for that illness matches up with the time frame the guest was present; communicate with our local health department, regardless of the likelihood it occurred at the facility. What matters most is having a well-trained team, quality equipment, a documentation process, a partnership with the local health department, empathy for the guest, and a willingness to be transparent.

As vice president of risk management at Great Wolf Resorts, based in Madison, Wis., I've also spent a lot of time developing risk management programs and participating in the writing of technical standards. Recently, I’ve led the MAHC Ventilation Technical Committee, and it’s been a humbling and memorable experience to work with such incredible people to develop the draft standard. Now that it has been reviewed in the public forum, we must incorporate the recommended changes. I’m looking forward to the next posting of the MAHC, so the changes can be viewed. My hope is that as the chair, I was able to lead the group to develop a good draft, and an even better final draft that reflects good practices that will ultimately make indoor environments safer and more comfortable for those who enjoy and work in aquatics facilities.

— Franceen Gonzales, Vice President of Risk Management, Great Wolf Resorts, Madison, Wis.