Waterparks and waterpark resorts are reeling after a series of drownings this summer. In the aftermath, many parks and local jurisdictions are rethinking their policies.
A 4-year-old boy drowned in the wave pool at Great America in Santa Clara, Calif., on July 12, prompting park owner Cedar Fair to require life vests for children under 48 inches at all of its parks.
A 6-year-old boy was found under a slide in 4 feet of water at the Swimmin' Hole waterpark in Joplin, Mo., on July 17. He was with a group of 30 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Missouri when the incident occurred. Municipal pools and waterparks are not regulated by the state, said Bob Kulp, director of the Newton County (Mo.) Health Department. He's hoping to adopt an ordinance and begin regulating "everything short of the private pool in residences."
And an 8-year-old girl died July 22 after being pulled from a 3-foot-deep lazy river at Lake Waldo's Beach Campground in Fayetteville, N.C. Lifeguards tried to revive her, then she was placed on life support, but she passed away the next day.
Two other accidents occurred in wave pools. An 11-year-old visiting on a school trip died in the wave pool at Bingemans Amusement Park in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. A 16-year-old nearly drowned in the wave pool at Oceans of Fun in Kansas City, Mo., on July 12. He was pulled out by a lifeguard and treated immediately. He survived without injury.
In California, Sen. Elaine Alquist is proposing a bill to make wave pools safer, including requirements for the number of lifeguards, the use of life vests for children, and a signal to alert patrons when the wave pool would be turned on.
Two separate incidents at waterpark hotel resorts also took place. A 4-year-old boy drowned on June 8 at the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, Wis., even after a lifeguard asked the supervisor twice whether she should retrieve the child, according to police reports. The supervisor thought the child was playing and said that guests get angry when guards rush into the pool for a nonemergency, the reports stated.
An incident at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Va., on June 19 involved a 4-year-old girl. Though she was rescued and revived, she died later at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va.
Great Wolf Resorts could not comment on the drowning during investigations, spokesperson Jennifer Beranick said. However, it is considering looking over its procedures again. "We have started to re-evaluate everything we do," she said.
Experts say that continuous training and auditing are key to maintaining a sharp lifeguard staff. "It's really difficult [to stay focused] in a waterpark setting with all the heat and the noise and humidity," said Alison Osinski, president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego. She suggested using video surveillance in crowded pools.