Drowning: The Silent Aquatic Public Health Threat
What can be done to reduce the drowning threat in our local communities?
By: Lauren Broom, Space Coast Pool School, LLC
Table of Contents
Aquatic facilities provide exercise, recreation and entertainment for our local communities, especially here in Florida. Florida has a full year operational season with no requirement to winterize aquatic facilities, but this increases our statistics of childhood drowning to occur. There are many reasons that have contributed to the increase of drowning in our state that need to be addressed. My hope with this article is to shed some light to those in our communities that do not understand that this is a silent public health threat that is not spoken about.
The reasons for some entities or persons not identifying this as a silent epidemic among our children could be due to money or budget constraints, lack of knowledge either intentional or unintentional or they are not sure how to address the problem with real world alternatives. This article will hopefully help showcase the basic information on the drowning statistics in the state of Florida and highlight how we can assist in reducing our drowning numbers in the most vulnerable population of children between the ages of 1 to 4.
Drowning should be addressed just like newborns sleeping on their backs to sleep, childhood vaccinations and car seat safety. Drowning is just as deadly and as preventable as these other issues.
Drowning is silent.
- Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1-4 years of age in the United States.
- The percentage of child drowning deaths in public pools with lifeguards on duty is at 19%.
- Six people drown in pools each day in the United States.
- Two-thirds of drownings occur between the months of May and August.
- Per Florida Dept. of Health statistics on drowning in 2019, there have been total of 1,054 drownings and 205 of those involved children.
- The counties in Florida with some of the highest drowning numbers are Broward, Hillsborough, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
- In 2014, there were about 800 children or 2 per day in the United States that lost their lives to drowning.
- Age, gender and race are key determining factors in child drowning. Boys are more likely to drown than girls and their number accounts for about 72% of deaths.
- Florida has the second highest number of total drownings right behind the state of Texas. Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths of children ages 1-4 according to Florida Dept. of Health.
- There is a rate of 7.54 drownings per 100,000 population in the year of 2013.
- Up to this point in October 2019, there have been 52 children that have died in the state of Florida from drowning.
- More American kids die today from drowning than from car accidents.
- If the child survives a near- drowning, as many as 10% them will suffer permanent brain damage.
- About 70% of African Americans do not know how to swim. There are about 10 people that die from drowning every single day, but African American children have a higher chance of drowning than for white and Hispanic children at ages from 5 years through the age of 18. The most vulnerable age due to drowning for African American children is age 10.
Problems in our Community
Local funding of government owned pools is disappearing, causing temporary or permanent closure of these public pools. This in turn reduces the number of low cost swimming lessons available to our community. Money for public pools in local communities are lesseningas local governments are shaving their operating budgets to cover their lost revenue. The list of pools affected are in some of the hottest spots in the nation. These locations are in Central Florida, Atlanta, and Houston. Large expenses like lifeguards, training, and insurance make these facilities very vulnerable when government officials are looking for things to cut in their operating budgets.
Below are some examples of pools affected by these budget constraints:
Palm Bay Aquatic Center located in Palm Bay, FL has been closed since January 2019 for maintenance(structurual issues, water leaks in pool liner and other areas). This public pool is stilll closed into December 2019.
Almost one year later and pool is still closed, green and almost empty of water with no repairs completed due to about $560,000 maintenance and update price tag.The pool needs replacement of it’s vinyl liner, and repair of structural leaks as well as updating underwater lighting system along with upgrades to meet ADA requirements for handicapped access. There is a Facebook page titled
Save The Palm Bay Pool for those that want to join to voice to the public and our local government how much our local pool means to us.
UPDATE 12/31/2019 Tentative deadline for repair and reopening of the Palm Bay Aquatic Center. Procurement meeting on 12/16/2019, pre-bid meeting on 01/09/20, bid due date 01/21/20 and all submitted proposals to the city by 01/24/20. Issue purchase order and notice to proceed given by 03/06/2020 and awarded vendor given 145 days to reach partial completion and 165 days to reach final completion of repairs. Final completion expected by 08/14/20 with potential opening date of Labor Day weekend in 2020. By this time the local public pool would have been closed for one and half years and 2 summers of swim lessons lost to the local community.
City of Vero Beach, Florida Leisure Square Pool In July 2019 it was announced that the Vero Beach City Council would close the local City of Vero Beach Leisure Square public pool as of January 2020. The Vero Beach Leisure Square public pool has been threatened to be closed and turned into a skate park.City of Vero Beach mayor Val Zudans stated “ I don’t think we should be in the pool business anymore.” Costs to the city are $194,000 annually to operate the poolt The pool only brings in about $25,000 through programs and admission.The city council threatened to pull funding of the public pool as they stated that the pool is a money drain to its budget. The pool needed more than $115,000 to stay open for next year’s 2020 city budget year. This is the only public pool in Vero Beach, Florida. The pool is a very expensive part of the city recreation budget.
The approximate 450 people that use the pool each week, and also groups like the Vero Beach High School Swim Team, Special Olympics and about 10-15 other swim programs offered each day would not have a facility available to them if this public pool is closed. In September 2019, the city council decided to reinstate the funding to the pool after a lot of outpouring from local community.The supporters of the pool staying open had become public about it in person and on social media. They created a Facebook page called Save The Leisure Square Pool. They organized a meet and greet at the local Walking Tree Brewery to meet with local candidates from the Vero Beach City Council to fight to protect the pool.
- Pasco County, Florida, is one of the counties with the highest drowning rates in Florida. Government officials were able to stop closing of the public pool in 2010 with the help of a local nonprofit group but in 2011 the money for the pool ran out and it was closed.
- Houston Texas pubic pool in Independence Heights closed. This is a llow income area where swim lessons would really be helpful.
- Sacramento, California. In 2011 only 13 public pools in operation, which was down from 21 pools just four years before.
- Louisville, Kentucky-All 4 of the outdoor pools were closed in summer 2019 due to city budget constraints.
U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission Pool Safely Campaign stated that one of the best ways to make sure that children do not drown is to enroll children in learn to swim programs. Community pools like those mentioned above are threatened to be closed. These pools provide a public safety service and this is now threatened by local governments to close these facilities due to lack of funding. Our communities must come together to find ways to help fund our local assets to help protect our children against drowning.
Real Examples, Not Just Statistics
- October 2019 There were two girls aged 5 & 7 that died in a pool in Greenacres, Florida. Law enforcement stated that neither of the girls knew how to swim.
- 2019-14 yr old unintentional drowning victim in Georgia–lifeguards on duty could not save child as they were not able to swim in deep water or do CPR.
- 2010–6 black teenagers from 2 families in Louisiana died of drowning while trying to save a friend. All 7 drowned while family watched because they could not swim either.
- 2019-17 year old high school student in Miami died in a lake while swimming with a group of other teens.
- 2019-17 yr old and 5 yr old drowned in Palm Beach County in a swimming accident in the deep end of the pool and it appeared neither could swim.
- 11-20-2019--Merritt Island, Florida A 1-year old girl fell into a canal. The child was found alive and breathing due to some construction workers who rescued her. The construction workers were at home next to the girl’s home when the toddler fell in the canal behind the home.The canal is around 3 or 4 feet deep. They were uncertain how long the girl was under water. The rescuers said she was blue and not breathing when they got they got to the scene.
Solutions to Prevent Drowning
Swim lessons on their own will not prevent drowning. They are part of the solution. Two-thirds of kids who drown are actually excellent swimmers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) only recommends and does not require swim lessons for children under age 4. The organization’s stance is–
”a parents decision about starting swimming lessons or water survival skills training at an early age must be individualized on the basis of the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional maturity, physical limitations, and health concerns related to swimming pools.”
It is important for parents to know that a child who knows how to swim is not a child who cannot drown. The AAP recommends parents remain within touching distance of their children, that parents have knowledge of CPR and that parents have barriers around the entire pool.
Use Layers of protection against drowning
- Educate children and adults about water safety.
- Supervision, never swim alone.
- Designate a “Water Watcher”
- Barriers around the pool with self closing and self latching gate or door.
- Doors and windows should have alarms.
- Power operated pool safety covers.
- Maintain phone nearby to the pool for emergencies.
- Knowledge of CPR and rescue breathing
- Maintain life saving equipment at poolside like a life ring and shepherd’s hook.
- Use proper and approved flotation devices.
- Remove toys and flotation devices from the pool area when not in use
Please do do not think your children are drown-proof just because they have completed swimming lessons. The Florida Dept. of Health drowning prevention program called WaterSmartFL lists supervision, barriers and emergency preparedness as the top three ways for adults to try to prevent child drownings.
Provide Scholarships for Swim Lessons Through Donations
Provide scholarships for low income communities to target swim lesson availability. Examples of funding for scholarships for swim lessons through donations:
Step Into Swim through National Swimming Pool Foundation
Money donated is given to various organizations in the U.S. that provide swim lessons to children that cannot afford them.
Swim Strong Foundation
Swim Strong Foundation’s mission is to save and change lives through water safety education and teaching swimming skills. We provide affordable swim programs to STOP the drowning. We guide students from age three through adult towards a healthy lifestyle via exercise, proper nutrition and competitive sports.
Students Preventing Unintentional Drowning
Teen WaterSMART Ambassador Club. Students educate the community on water safety while enhancing leadership and character development.
Team Kareem Memorial Foundation
Team Kareem was developed by Mother, Arkeisha Reese after the tragic death of her son Kareem Angel Green. While attending a field trip, Kareem drowned in a pool. He was left unattended by the staff. Arkeisha, in his memory, developed a program that provides free swimming lessons and related services to children and families.
Florida Swims Foundation
The Florida Swims Foundation (Swimming Pool Education and Safety Foundation) funds swimming lessons throughout Florida and the dissemination of safety information and materials. In 2018-19, FSPA’s Foundation awarded $35,000 in scholarships to college students. In 2017 in partnership with local FSPA chapters, provided $27,095 in grants for swimming lessons. FSPA’s 16 Florida chapters collaborate local organizations, such as Safe Kids, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs, to bring important water safety messages and swimming lessons directly to families with young children.
The SWIMS Foundation is an organization founded in 1999 to promote and support drowning prevention and water safety education across South Florida. SWIMS stands for Safe Water Instruction Means Safety and our strong belief is that drowning is preventable through awareness, the use of safety precautions, by learning to swim and by learning lifesaving skills.
Our vision is for No More Drownings in our community, and our mission is to promote and support community-wide efforts to prevent drowning.
Increasing revenue at Local Public Pools
Funding should be properly allocated for government owned pools in local government budgets. Local governments should find other ways of funding their operational budget and get creative to bring in funds. They could offer a wide range of swim lessons and other aquatic activities. Swim lessons offerings could bring in a lot of revenue, but facility should offer to all age groups. Consider teaming up with local health care facilities to offer therapeutic water activities, like for stroke survivors. Offer water aerobics classes to all ages Offer private lessons through online social media providers and they can pay a fee to use a portion of your facility to provide their private swim lessons. Add low cost additions to make your pool more exciting for parents and their kids like splash areas, cannons, and bucket games.
Even adding a theme to the area can be helpful to make the area more appealing to the children. Offer food through onsite concessions or even have a food truck night at the public pool. Parents enjoy having food available at the pool for their hungry children. Offer lost cost swim supplies at an onsite store like goggles, swim caps, nose plugs, swim diapers, water bottles and towels for those parents that may have forgotten these supplies at home. Offer party packages for birthdays that includes games, pizza and birthday cake. Don’t wait to do your maintenance, spread the cost out over many years so as to not impact one year’s particular operating budget.
Case Example: Clinton, Iowa, YWCA launched the Splash Sponsor Campaign to help raise funds for their public pool. They successfully raised $100,000 last year. The funds raised were used to purchase a coil for their dehumidification system and other upgrades and repairs to the pool. They state that their only indoor pool is vital to their local community and that “its imperative for them to ensure the sustainability and longevity of this vital community resource.
The success of their fundraising campaign makes it possible for their community to benefit from the pool for many years into the future. www.ywcaclinton.org/who-we-are/donate
Local governments, local non-profit organizations or even individuals could use a Go Fund Me Page or something similar to raise funds.
Stand Up for Your Pool
Individuals should stand up and let their local governments know the importance of the public pool is to their community. This can be done through online petitions or even showing up to your local city government council meeting and publicly speak. In October 2019, Lauren Broom of Space Coast Pool School attended the local City of Palm Bay Florida council meeting and spoke for three minutes on the importance of the currently closed public pool to the community.
Legislation to Require Learn to Swim Programs for School Age Children
Hawaii is providing free swim lessons through a local nonprofit dedicated to teaching swim safety.This small island state is in close distance to the beaches. It is estimated that half of Hawaii’s kids do not know how to swim. This inability to swim was a marker of poverty among kids, since private swim lessons are financially cut out or is a lower priority in family’s monthly budget.
There is a lot of disparity and inequity in Hawaii. The Ocean Safety Ohana,a local nonprofit group that helps with community partnerships among the Hawaii Dept of Education(DOE) and other schools to introduce swim programs.This is not a mandatory learn to swim program in Hawaii. Years ago the DOE used the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium for mandatory elementary school learn to swim program but the saltwater swimming pool was closed in 1979 due to disrepair and has been closed since that time.
Access to public pools is one of the biggest walls barricading the reach to public school kids with subsidized swim lessons. In 2019, Hawaii leaders are trying to introduce a mandatory water safety curriculum to help reduce childhood drowning in the state. Local Hawaii Aquatics Association was created in 2017. They are trying to locally close the gap in water safety. They offer swim lessons free of cost to local schools through money raised through private donations and grants. They partner with local schools and offer 5 to 10 week curriculum that has 2 in-classroom sessions and 8 in-pool session that last about 30 minutes each. This program is offered for free to area schools through their Aquatics Academy.Foundation. They work with many children from low economic areas and help with purchase of a bathing suit that the child will get to keep at the end of the swim lessons. In 2017-19 school year the group worked with 500 students. In 2018-19 school year that number of students increased to 1,000.
Authored by Dr. Bill Kent
Titled Edna Mae McGovern Act “Every Child a Swimmer”
It would require that school entry health examinations include water safety and swimming lesson components. –this means each child shall have an understanding of water safety and have completed swimming lessons.It is not mandated since parents may opt-out of the requirement. Every child should demonstrate basic ability to swim before entering school at the primary level.
Local Florida 2019 Legislation
A local Florida Senator wants to make water safety is a priority in the public school curriculum
- SB 608 would require students to learn what to do it caught in rip current, importance of formal swim lessons, the proper use of flotation devices and other skills related to water safety. Water safety lessons would be part of the health education curriculum for students in grades K-12.
The bill was filed in October 2019. It complements HB 325 in the House.If passed the bill would take effect in July 2020.
- Miami- Dade County Public School Board on November 20, 2019 voted to adopt and implement Water Safety Curriculum & Instruction for students in grades K-12.
- Florida Senate bill would require Florida homeowners to add more safety features to swimming pools when a homeowner intends on selling their home or when building a new pool.The bill would be effective October 2020. The bill would require at least 2 of 5 approved safety features in place. These safety features include fencing, pool covers, door alarms, gates and motion alarms.