'Eye, Eye,' Captain: It is important that the supervisor stand close to the lifeguard so they share the same vantage.
Pete DeQuincy, City of Seaside 'Eye, Eye,' Captain: It is important that the supervisor stand close to the lifeguard so they share the same vantage.

How do you know your lifeguards are effectively scanning the water and are seeing what you’re seeing? The aquatics industry continues to refine the scan to assist the lifeguard in remaining vigilant during their scanning sessions, and to verify that the lifeguard is seeing important details in both the surface water and bottom water.

Some of the advancements in scanning include the development of multiple patterns, specific lengths of time for a scan, and determining the size of the zone of lifeguard coverage. The industry has instilled in supervisors and managers the importance of ensuring lifeguards remain vigilant by providing consistent breaks, requiring body movement (sit/stands, walking patrols), providing good shade, and ample opportunities for them to remain hydrated.

Illuminating interview

Even with these innovations, we didn’t know if lifeguards were seeing what we were seeing. There was no litmus test for scanning. This issue bothered Terri Smith, a designer and operational consultant at Salt Lake City-based Water Design Inc., and inspired her to develop the “Vigilance Voice.”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Terri to learn more about the program. Here are some excerpts from our interview:

What compelled you to develop the Vigilance Voice?

In 2002, there were two non-fatal aquatic incidents at my facility within two days. It was clear to me that, although my staff seemed to be scanning, they weren’t seeing. This was confirmed when one of my lifeguards told me this after one of the incidents. When asked what they saw, their response was ‘Terri, I didn’t know I couldn’t see the bottom of the pool.’ I really felt like I failed to give my staff the tools and training they needed to be successful at scanning and more importantly seeing what they needed to see.

The Vigilance Voice was inspired by commentary driving, a technique used to train emergency responders who are required to drive at high speeds during emergencies. Here’s how it works: A driver trainee sits in the driver’s seat, while an experienced trainer sits in the passenger seat. While driving, the trainee verbalizes everything they are seeing. This provides the trainer insight to what the trainee is seeing and not seeing. I knew I could use this technique and adapt it for the pool.

How do you use the Vigilance Voice?

While providing backup coverage during the exercise, have the supervisor stand next to the lifeguard. The supervisor must have the same vantage, and ask the lifeguard to verbalize what they see. The supervisor listens and takes notes while the lifeguard scans and articulates what’s in the zone. Once the lifeguard has finished, then the supervisor scans and articulates what they see in the same area while the lifeguard listens. The supervisor covers the differences between the lifeguard scan and the supervisor scan. The lifeguard then scans the same area again, with the supervisor listening. The goal is that the lifeguard and supervisor see the same thing during their scan.

How often should the Vigilance Voice technique be used?

The Vigilance Voice can be used as often as needed.

Here are some examples of when you can utilize this training:

  • For initial training/orientation for new and returning lifeguards
  • Incorporated into in-service training
  • When a lifeguard has an unsatisfactory scan time
  • If the lifeguard appears to be unfocused on the stand
  • When the supervisor wants to spot check a lifeguard to know what he or she is seeing
  • It can also be self-initiated by lifeguards who want to increase their alertness and ward off distraction, boredom and daydreaming.

The Big Eye

As Terri further explained to me, whether or not there is a training progression depends very much on the individual agency.

Most organizations that utilize the Vigilance Voice introduce it in the lifeguard training course during the scanning component. New lifeguard candidates receive a deeper understanding of scanning and its importance to prevention.

The Vigilance Voice especially becomes a powerful tool when lifeguards use it to develop their “Big Eye.”

Jim Wheeler, Recreation Manager for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks, coined the term the Big Eye. It refers to the overall knowledge an aquatics professional develops when it comes to their facilities and situations. Professionals who have the Big Eye know what they are looking for, what it looks like and where to look for it. Simply stepping onto the deck during recreational swim, a professional with the Big Eye understands strengths and weaknesses in the zones, the hotspots, blind spots, and glare within the zones, depending on the time of day, and what normal patron behavior looks like. The Big Eye can immediately identify high-risk activity and how to quickly avert potential crises. The Vigilance Voice training nurtures and accelerates Big Eye development in new lifeguards.

When your lifeguard begins seeing what the supervisor is seeing, begin asking the following questions to accelerate the Big Eye growth:

  • Identify the patron groups (clusters) within the zone
  • Determine the risk level of each group/individual (low, medium, high)
  • Explain why the risk level is associated with group/individual (activity and behavior)
  • Place each group in order of risk (high to low, low to high)
  • Pick a group/individual and list possible prevention measures
  • Pick a group/individual and list possible rescue measures, followed with possible patient care

Once your staff can answer these questions, begin to incorporate your rescue and assist data from previous seasons and verify that the areas where repetitive rescues and assists occur are mentally noted.

The goal of the Vigilance Voice is to establish what your lifeguards are seeing, and if needed, expand what they’re seeing to meet your expectation. The goal of the Big Eye is to develop your staff’s ability to see the larger picture, as well as to identify, predict, and prevent aquatic incidents.

If you have questions about the Vigilance Voice and the Big Eye, you’re invited to email Terri Smith at [email protected].

Good luck and keep Training.