Large-scale drills encompassing the entire lifeguard staff are hard to coordinate and generally have varied end results. Often outcomes are just plain bad, demonstrating breakdowns in communication between the trainer and the rescuer(s), failures in performing the proper skills, and rescue teams losing sight of the objective. However, when large-scale drills are well run, they’re amazing to witness: teams of lifeguards working together with the one purpose of saving the victim(s), demonstrating speed, efficiency, and a shared focus that is awe-inspiring.

Large-scale drills should be built from the skills practiced during in-service training. Clear large-scale drill outcomes follow a natural progression or culmination of previously practiced skills. These in-service skills can consist of simple tasks, such as rescuing a victim, to complex tasks like extrication and critical medical care.

Large-scale drills should only be done in the last third of the in-service training, roughly 20 minutes for every hour of training. They should never be undertaken at the beginning of in-service because rescuer skills tend to be rusty and teams have not had a chance to work together.

Team continuity also is crucial. Small-group drills should proceed with the same teams working together in the large-scale drills. The team will have worked together through most of the in-service training, with each member learning the nuances of his or her teammates and developing skill techniques that complement each other.

Here are three highly effective, large-scale drills.

Same³ Drill

Same Cubed refers to all small groups/teams responding to “the same type of incident, utilizing the same rescue maneuver(s), performing the rescue at the same time.” This drill works well for land and water. If equipment is limited, stagger the small groups and share.

Objective: All small groups completing the drill within the time limit. Skills that benefit from this drill include:

Rescuer placement around the victim (land, 5-10 seconds)

Primary assessment/rescue breathing (land, 15-25 seconds)

CPR (land, 25-45 seconds)

Passive victim, shallow (water, 5-10 seconds)

Extrication, non-spinal (water, 15-30 seconds)

Keep the skill progressions incremental and the drill cycle times to a minimum. Remember, the repetition is necessary for the small groups to achieve proficiency and team comfort.

Assembly Line Drill

This drill configuration utilizes a space (catch pool, lazy river, or center of a pool) for a specific type of skill, rescue or extrication. A victim will present, activating one of the small-group teams, who will rescue and/or extricate the victim. Once the first victim is cleared from the initial scene, the next victim will present; causing the next small group to respond. Victim activation could be triggered by drill time limit or clearing the previous victim from the scene. This large-scale drill does not end until all victims have been rescued, extricated, and provided with medical care. Objective: Each small group will complete the drill consecutively within the designated interval. Some skills that benefit from this drill methodology include:

Rescue with extrication, non-spinal (15-25 seconds/team)

Submerged rescue with extrication, non-spinal (15-25 seconds)

Rescue with extrication, and primary assessment/rescue breathing (20-45 seconds)

Rescue, with extrication, and CPR/AED (45-60 seconds)

Spinal immobilization for a conscious or unconscious victim (2-3 minutes)

60-Second Drill

Divide the staff into two equal groups: one group of potential rescuers and one group of potential victims. The drill space will be an entire pool or specified area. Here are the rules for the drill:

All patrons/victims will act like normal recreational swim patrons.

All patrons/victims will comply with lifeguard rule enforcement.

All identified victims will be rescued and/or extricated.

All rescue drills will be completed within the 60-second time interval.

All lifeguarding will be done on deck. No lifeguard will guard while in the pool.

All victims will be attended to by at least one lifeguard once they’ve been rescued.

Rescuers will determine scanning zones, equipment distribution and location, and lifeguard backup. Rescuers can work individually or in small groups.

Objective: Rescue, extricate and provide care to all victims within the time interval.

The victims group will meet with the trainer prior to the drill to determine the number of victims, type of injury and rescue needed. Some participants will be assigned a number between 1 and 60. During the drill, the trainer will count to 60, and when he or she calls a victim’s number, the victim will activate to become distressed, drowning, or submerged. Skills that benefit from this drill methodology include:

Active/Passive/Submerged Victim

Rescue with extrication (non-emergency)

Rescue with extrication and medical care

It's imperative to observe how the group manages rescues and equipment. Be careful not to initially overwhelm the rescue group with too many victims. Instead, let them succeed and build momentum before ramping up difficulty. Verify that the group is activating the emergency action plan and designating a rescuer(s) to manage the scene. When the objective has been met, switch rescue and victim groups.

Large-scale drills can go awry without prior planning. Flexibility in curriculum and time allocations will allow for unforeseen circumstances. These drills need to be practiced frequently for the staff to become successful at them.