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The American Red Cross will launch its updated lifeguard training program next month amid lingering customer tension and defection caused by an abrupt pricing policy change in July.

The Red Cross is hoping that new, streamlined program, which officials say will reduce some costs, will ease some of those concerns.

Some of the biggest changes are in how the content was developed and how proficiency is measured, said Stephanie Shook, aquatics channel manager for the American Red Cross, who helped develop the updated program.

Most notably, the new program places greater emphasis on physical capability, said Stephanie Shook, aquatics channel manager at the American Red Cross, who helped develop the updated program. A new prerequisite requires prospective guards to demonstrate the ability to tread water (using legs only) for two minutes, and a new timed scenario must be completed in the final session.

Also new is an expanded section on surveillance, including an enhanced description of what happens during a drowning, and several additions to water rescue training. This includes new sections on guarding during special activities and how to give swim tests, and a section on how to proceed with a rescue when things don’t go according to protocol. First aid and CPR/AED certifications are included, with greater emphasis on strategically incorporating AEDs in a rescue event.

Program changes are based on the findings of the Lifeguard Standards Coalition, a collaboration of the Red Cross, YMCA, United States Lifesaving Association and members of the International Life Saving Federation, formed in 2006 “to research, identify and promote evidence-based standards for lifeguarding and water rescue.”

Historically, the Red Cross has updated its program every five years or so, but “this is the first time that this kind of research has been available formally to look to during the revisions,” Shook said.

Having research and data to support program and policy decisions is important because in the past, many industry standards accepted as given have been based solely on historical reliance rather than objective research, said B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association and part of the Lifeguard Standards Coalition.

“I think the more of this sort of objective scrutiny that goes on outside of the existing lifeguard training organizations — bringing in people who have no skin in the game but simply want to help get the best answers — the greater we can all rely on the quality of the programs,” he added.

The updated Red Cross program will be available in traditional classroom format, as well as in a blended learning design, incorporating online study and classroom training. Books and materials will be available for download at no additional cost, and there are video segments and digital “refresher” content.

“We really worked hard to increase interactivity, and we are being mindful of delivery methods,” Shook said. The goal is to maximize use of online capabilities and meet the needs of various learning styles.

The program will be offered at provider cost of $35 per student. It is the first newly updated program to fall under the new fee schedule announced abruptly last summer, which has caused concerns among providers, some of whom are facing significant increases in pricing. According to Red Cross officials, the new fees and other changes are all part of ongoing efforts to streamline offerings, create uniformity and better reach underserved communities.

More information on the updated program is available in an online preview kit, and a training support center now is open at 800.733.2767, or support@redcrosstraining.org.