Goals and challenges

During a 30-day period in 2007, Chula Vista suffered three cases of children drowning in residential pools. The tragedies galvanized the city’s Fire and Recreation Departments into action, and a new drowning prevention program was born. Called Water Awareness in Residential Neighborhoods, the campaign acted on the knowledge that many of the city’s 300,000 residents lacked a clear understanding of the drowning risks associated with their pools. As a part of WARN, the two departments developed a program designed to educate residents about water safety. The event accelerated a metamorphosis in the priorities of the city’s aquatic programs, placing drowning prevention at the forefront of all its endeavors.

However, due to departmental budget cuts of 60 percent, the city’s aquatics staff faced an uphill battle: How could they expand the scope of their initial drowning prevention program? The answer lay in creating effective partnerships.

How they did it

To extend its reach, the city has led a number of highly successful alliances. One of the most productive is with Kaiser Permanente, which provides $365,000 in grants to fund swim lessons as part of the physical education curriculum for fourth grade students. This Elementary Learn to Swim program, which specifically targets children who might not otherwise have access to such lessons, pays for the pool use, instructors, lifeguards and transportation. To date, more than 9,000 children have benefitted from this program.

Additionally, the city reached out to USA Swimming through the Make a Splash program, and has received $24,000 to provide free and reduced cost swim lessons. It has even amassed more than 1,000 swimsuits to donate to low-income children with assistance from Sea World Aquatica, Lincoln Aquatics, Q Swimwear and Make a Splash Foundation.

While providing swim lessons is the principal goal in its drowning prevention plan, the aquatics team also recognized the need to educate its most vulnerable citizens on water safety. To that end, the staff tirelessly searched for more opportunities, resulting in myriad collaborations. An annual April Pools Day event, which includes swim lessons, water safety education, CPR training, a mock rescue with a real 911 call and even an opportunity to swim with a Navy SEAL, resulted from a partnership with Safe Kids San Diego and the San Diego County Aquatic Council. Through the city’s elementary school district, the aquatic team is able to make annual water safety presentations to more than 1,000 first graders and reach more than 15,000 residents with weekly water safety messages. A “Save a Life Summer” event in August is sponsored by the local Firefighter’s Foundation and offers free swim lessons, water safety info and hands-only CPR demonstrations. Additionally, National University was tapped to provide free CPR classes on campus. And, most recently, the city successfully met the ambitious goal to reach every single resident with a backyard pool with water safety information. This was accomplished with support from the health department, the city’s permitting office, and by the ingenious use of Google Earth to identify pool owners in older areas of the city. Water safety information was mailed to each pool owner, including an invitation from the mayor to attend the city’s water safety events.