In aquatics one simple truth remains paramount: The difference between success and failure is preparation. It is impossible to predict every challenge. However, if history teaches us anything, it’s that everything and anything can happen at anytime.

Though each emergency will be specific, having a preset, practiced plan will dramatically increase your chances of a positive outcome. These plans are referred to as  emergency action plans or EAPs.

Emergency action plans will always be unique to your facility, and should include a clear, concise description of the responsibilities of your staff members for various classifications of emergencies at your facility (conscious rescues, unconscious rescues, suspected spinals, life-threatening, non-life threatening and the like). Proper assignment of responder levels in accordance with your training agency and equipment needs are crucial.

Best practice also calls for plans to be maintained on site and reviewed annually, especially after an emergency. In-service training incorporating this plan should occur throughout the season. Your EAP should at a minimum achieve two objectives:

1. Define levels of response and the person(s)/position(s)/title(s) responsible for each level of response and action.

2. Define responsibilities and tasks such as equipment, communication and support assigned to the individuals identified in each level of response

Your facility’s EAP will need to have multiple components to it, just as you would have an assortment of employees assisting with any emergency you may have at your facility. Here are the key components needed to make any EAP successful:

  • Type of emergency event — This should be the header of your plan because it will be the key component that differentiates your EAPs from one another, in addition to dictating the desired response.
  • Equipment detail — Description of all equipment items to be used by staff, including exact locations at the facility.
  • Recognition of the guest in distress — Guest was recognized under what conditions and by whom.
  • Activation of EAP — How is your EAP activated and by whom? If different locations at your facility activate the EAP differently, be sure to include them. Here are areas to consider:
  • Level 1: Initial response — Describe actions by initial or “primary” responder. Include communication and equipment used during response.
  • Level 2: Secondary response — Describe  actions by the “secondary“ as he or she provides direct assistance to the primary responder. Again, include communication and equipment used during response.
  • Level 3: Tertiary response — Describe actions by any remaining line or supervisory staff.
  • Team management — Describe actions of the lifeguard emergency responder team as they provide care to guest until care is transferred to EMS or guest is released.
  • Follow-up tasks — Detail specific follow-up tasks to be completed by lifeguards and other team members who were directly or indirectly involved. This could include functions of security/park services and/or witness statement documentation. In addition to lifeguards and line staff, it's wise to detail specific follow-up tasks to be completed by the supervisory staff.

Supervision can vary from a support to a leading role. All responders must understand and be able to perform their roles, and there must be an adequate number of responders to handle all types of emergencies.
Supervisors also must ensure that enough guards are on the stand not only to watch the water effectively, but also to manage an incident if it occurs. 

The supervisors set the tone when it comes to the running of simulated emergencies. It is during these simulations that supervisors must evaluate the team’s effectiveness in various situations and determine where additional inputs are necessary. Just as guards must be fluent in their emergency duties, supervisors must understand their roles and be able to function at a high level when it comes to implementing the EAP.

Here are some EAP implementation tips and in-service ideas:

  • Make it available! (Don’t let it go into a folder that never leaves the shelf.)
  • Incorporate classroom studying/testing of lifeguards’ EAP knowledge.
  • Run simulated emergencies regularly with guards; include review time for overall effectiveness of the simulation, highlighting successes and opportunities to improve.
  • Involve outside agencies (police/fire/EMS) when possible, and/or supplemental responders (non-lifeguard staff who are assigned key roles in responding to an emergency) in a one- or two-guard facility.
  • Involve your staff in an annual review process of your EAPs. Don’t be afraid to seek out their opinions.

It’s important to remember that no matter how detailed and logistically sound your EAP may appear on paper, it must be continually practiced and improved upon. Emergencies do not like to be scheduled and they always seem to come at inconvenient times. Make this next time a success by having a plan and sticking to it. Be proactive. Be prepared. And be practiced!