SPECIAL REPORT: In over your Head


We've all heard stories of children drowning in a crowded setting. Often the response is -- "How did no one see the person struggling?" or "Why wasn't anyone watching the water?" But drowning is not what Hollywood depicts -- screaming with arms flailing.

"What most people don't know is that drowning is silent," says Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. "They'd be waiting for yelling, splashing, waving, when actually if somebody's drowning they're either choking on water or gasping for air."

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is an organization dedicated to water safety across the Great Lakes.

So the signs of drowning are typically the victim facing the closest exit of the water, mouth at water level, head tilted back. They will be vertical, doing a climbing ladder motion in the water.

The drowning person is usually under water within 60 seconds. When CPR is performed within 2 minutes there is a 94 percent survival rate. The threat is much more severe around 3 minutes because the person's heart stops. Around 4 minutes, there is irreversible brain damage. At 10 minutes the survival rate is only 14 percent. The problem is -- even when someone goes under -- it can take a while to spot them in an active pool.

"In clear water, in flat water you can see straight to the bottom. You can see somebody, but unfortunately if people are playing and there are distractions, they don't know what's at the bottom of the water..."

The best way to keep everyone safe is to understand the concept of Safer 3: Safer Water, Safer People, Safer Response.

Safer water entails enclosing the pool with a fence and a locking pool covers. Have floats available to throw someone.

Safer people involves teaching others, especially kids, basic swimming skills. Until them, children should wear a Coast Guard personal flotation device.

"Those inflatable arm floaties, they can be of some aid," says Benjamin. "The problem is they're cheaply made. If they deflate, a child jumps in and they could just slip off the arms."

Simply telling someone to watch the water isn't enough. You need to make sure the person you assign that responsibility knows the signs of drowning and has the proper equipment to safely perform a rescue. One way to assign that responsibility to someone is to give them a water watcher card or lanyard that they can wear around their neck that states their sole responsibility is to watch the water for trouble.

Safer response entails having an emergency action plan to save someone's life. It's important to know that rescue objects don't have to be your traditional life rings, but could be something as simple as a football or soccer ball... anything that floats. Having someone available in your group who knows CPR is always a huge plus. If you ever notice your child is missing, it's imperative that you always check the water, first!

"You want to know the water around your house. Do your neighbors have pools? Do they have restricted access to those water, whether it's a coy pond, a hot tub, or a pool?"

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