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Emergency Action Plans: From Paper to Performance in Aquatics

Posted by West Bend Staff on Sep 24, 2020 1:14:27 PM

NOTE: We also have information on Developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for emergencies other than aquatics.

Picture this - a possible spinal victim is floating lifelessly in the shallow water of the pool. Lifeguards respond immediately by activating the Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The victim is backboarded and an ambulance can be heard in the distance. As the victim is transported from the pool deck to the ambulance, EMS workers hit a snag. The backboard won’t fit through the building's entrance!  After several minutes searching for keys to a back gate, staffers were able to get the victim in to the ambulance. Luckily, this entire scenario was simply an in-service training. The management staff and lifeguards learned a very valuable lesson before anyone was actually injured.

Is your staff prepared to activate and implement your emergency action plan from start to finish? Have you involved local EMS and police enforcement?

An EAP should be the proactive guide for staff to follow in the unexpected and sudden event of an accident or injury that must be dealt with urgently. It also acts as evidence of responsible care. Unless all of the pieces are in place, however, it may not act as the risk management plan that was anticipated. pool3

Consider how you can coordinate the pieces of an EAP:


Personnel, communication, and equipment are three important components of the EAP.

  • Personnel - Think beyond the scope of typical emergency personnel who include lifeguards, head lifeguards, and managers, to include concession or front desk staff, maintenance, coaches, local EMS, law enforcement, the gas and electric company, and even your chemical supply company. Is everyone on the same page?
  • Communication - An effective communication system must be in place and should be used during an incident to notify other lifeguards, as well as EMS, fire, or law enforcement. What’s the process for the lifeguard team to follow for an act of violence? What if there’s no emergency phone available on the pool deck when the manager’s office is locked?
  • Equipment - Any member of the lifeguard team involved in an emergency must be comfortable with the equipment available in a rescue situation. Does your in-service training require each member of your aquatic safety team personally handle the new AED? Does each member of the team know the location of the oxygen tank, body fluid spill kit, or fire extinguishers?


With the pieces of personnel, communication, and rescue equipment in place, you can gear your pre-employment testing, orientation, and in-services to the EAP’s desired outcome. You must remember lifeguards have a duty to act in an emergency. So they can be successful performing these actions, your facility must:

  • Implement a screening process that includes a practical evaluation of skills and knowledge. The evaluation becomes even more critical if the lifeguards you hired have been trained by different organizations. How deep were the pools in which your lifeguards trained? Are they prepared to make a rescue in the deepest part of your pool?
  • Design an orientation for the lifeguards so they’ll understand their responsibilities and your expectations. New lifeguards should not be expected to learn as they go.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for each type of emergency, whether it’s a tornado warning, an injury, sudden illness, missing person, or drowning victim.
  • Create informative, challenging, and engaging in-service training that will enhance your lifeguard team’s knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm. Bring in guest speakers or hold a competition between your lifeguards. Conduct simulated emergencies involving other agencies, such as EMS.
  • Establish responsibilities after the lifeguard team has responded to an emergency in completing reports, checking equipment, and dealing with questions, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of the plan so revisions can be made, if necessary.


As aquatic professionals and supervisors, you put together the EAP with the personnel, communication system, and rescue equipment appropriate for your facility. You should spend your efforts making sure the aquatic safety team is qualified, knowledgeable, and competent in carrying out their duties to act with the pre-employment training orientation and in-services you’ve provided so their actions produce the highest standard of care.

Take a look at your Emergency Action Plan. Does it cover the unexpected?

About the Author: Bonnie Griswold

Bonnie Griswold has more than 38 years of experience in managing, developing, and implementing aquatic programs with a variety of organizations, including YMCA’s, summer camps, college PE programs, and community aquatics programs.

Bonnie has been actively involved as a volunteer at the local and national Red Cross. She was a member of the American Red Cross National Technical and Educational Advisory Development Team for the revision of the current Lifeguarding materials from 2005-2007 and for the 2009 release of the Water Safety Instructor (WSI) program. She has presented at the Wisconsin Park and Recreation Association (WPRA) state convention on aquatics, as well as at local Red Cross and aquatic workshops.

Bonnie is currently an instructor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Kinesiology Department and owner of Griswold Safety Services, a resource for aquatic facilities on safety and risk management through staff training. She holds numerous certifications, including American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor Trainer (WSIT), Lifeguarding Instructor Trainer (LGIT), CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer IT, and Community First Aid and Safety Instructor. Bonnie is also an Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) and PADI certified scuba diver.

Topics: Safety, Aquatics, Risk Management

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