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Water Safety Innovations: Digital Technology

Have you read about computer-aided drowning detention systems?

While expensive today, just like HDTVs, iPads and hybrid cars, this innovative technology will come down in price and will likely be the standard in about 10 years, according to experts at The Redwoods Group (a Mooresville, NC-based insurance provider to more than half of the YMCAs in the US.

How does it work?

Cameras installed overhead and underwater differentiate between normal and suspicious movement, lock in on the source of that movement and sound an alarm within 10-12 seconds. A monitor at poolside shows the location where the alarm was generated. Swimmers doing laps, for examples, wouldn’t trigger an alarm but one that begins to sink to the bottom would.

This is cool. It’s innovative. It’s forward-thinking. But right now, it’s expensive.

Upwards of $100K for one pool monitoring system. That is its biggest obstacle (where for-profit, bottom-line-oriented businesses are concerned).

What’s interesting in that – despite its expense – non-profits are the first to start actually implementing these systems. This is because, instead of having to rely purely on budget dollars, non-profits often have donor dollars that are ear-marked for such innovations – especially when those innovations have the potential for increasing safety standards (and potentially reducing insurance premiums.)

This doesn’t replace human lifeguards but helps them.

According to a recently article in Aquatics International, the digital eyes can better detect danger under difficult conditions (glare and chop). The technology is considered a “backup to the human element.”

And the response to the cost? “Our philosophy is, if it saves one life it’s definitely worth the investment,” Julie Colon Koriakin, director of strategic initiatives for the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta says.

Julie’s “Y” was the first US adopter of this technology which was actually developed almost 20 years ago by Poseidon (European manufacturer that is now owned by pool-equipment producer Maytronics)/ More than 230 pools worldwide have the early-warning system. Of its 50+ US instances, most are at YMCAs. Julie’s “Y” has 18 of these.

Huge money requirement is a hindrance.

While there is a valid argument that you can’t put a cost on safety, even Koriakin can’t yet credit the system for saving any lives. Poseidon claims 28 successful rescues. With such young and limited stats, companies can’t “justify” what is now an indulgence when (with multiple pools) they are looking at absolutely “huge money” to do it.

Of course, you can stage out multiple installations, but from a risk management perspective, The Redwoods Group, notes that you can’t just have it in one of several pools.

There are groups that believe this is just TMI!

Too much information being recorded of people in their bathing suits. This is mostly taking place in Europe where some criticize the technology for being needlessly obtrusive. In some instances it has caused friction between local authorities and civil rights groups. Some big brother groups believe that this type technology shouldn’t be put out there without their being a consultation period with the public.

Would this attitude change if someone close to these complainants were saved by this technology?

While there is a monitor for viewing the location of the alert, there isn’t a bank of “surveillance” monitors with a crew of people who constantly stare at the screens. In fact, the footage is only accessed from a server when an accident needs to be reviewed.

The Julie notes that “When we have educated our members on the syst, and why we have it, they are very pleased to know that they have an extra set of digital eyes, so to speak, keeping them safe.”

Maybe Americans are just more nonchalant about being monitored. There has been little (if any) noted controversy in the US thus far.

There are some more affordable – but still unproven – alternatives.

Wearables for drowning detection are available but they are still in experimental phases. These would be individually worn, of course. In the use scenario, a child would wear the monitor which would alert the parent (instead of lifeguards) on their smart phones. After all, lifeguards aren’t going to have their cell phones on them while performing their duties. The parent would probably be the first to know if their child is in distress.

But there are all sorts of ramifications and concerns about this. It could open up liability risks or it could be a way to have multiple people keeping tabs on children in the water. That is yet to be worked out.

Read the complete article in April 2015th’s edition of Aquatics International.

Source: Aquatics International Magazine

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