Special Event Safety
Tomorrow morning we’ll have our second lifeguard tryouts of the season. Candidates that are able to swim 500 meters in 9 minutes or less and pass a drug test and interview will have a shot at being beach lifeguards this summer. Our last tryout is May 10th. All the candidates who pass the initial screening will test their skills in a grueling double run-swim-run event in the surf. Completing this event will qualify them to enter our 100 hour lifeguard academy. Those that make it through this intense course will join the ranks of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol lifeguard staff.
Setting up for the run-swim-run event is quite a production. Two careful head counts take place before and after the event. The guards that work the event have a safety briefing before and a debriefing afterwards. At least one personal water craft (Jet Ski) with an operator and rescuer on board will be in the water overseeing the 8 or so seasoned lifeguards on rescue boards who work a zone formation. All candidates are checked at the finish line.
People in our line of work know how quickly bad things can happen and that eventually they will. It pays to be consistently prepared for any contingency and to put the extra effort in before the crisis. The best you can hope for is that you are over prepared and have safety systems in place that don’t need to be implemented.
This philosophy of risk mitigation is something that communities like ours with lots of tourism, special events, and sporting competitions each year need to embrace fully. With proper preparation and adequate resources we can minimize the number of bad things that happen.
Triathlons are notorious for providing a lot of resources and coverage on the land portions but almost nothing for water safety, where there is arguably greater risk. Minor issues on land that are easily detected and addressed can cause a quick death when they occur in the water. Organizers will spend thousands of dollars making sure the bike and run legs have plenty of officers and paid staff members to direct traffic and keep the athletes and cars separated. Meanwhile, there may be some pool guards, a couple of boats and/or untrained volunteers in kayaks watching the swimmers, the majority of whom have little or no experience swimming in open water.
A couple of weeks ago the Beach Patrol coordinated a team including Police/Sheriff dive team, Jamaica Beach Fire Rescue, Ironman staff, and a volunteer kayak club. We collectively worked the swim portion of the Memorial Herman Ironman triathlon. Fortunately we were prepared and given adequate resources. The first part of the swim had a strong headwind that caused the swimmers lots of unexpected problems. It could have been catastrophic. But by the end of the event we’d made 36 rescues and 115 swim assists with no drownings or serious injuries.
Whether we’re talking about special events or managing tourism it helps to be imbedded in a community that understands the economic and social value of proper preparation.