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Scanning Strategies

This is an excerpt from StarGuard 5th Edition With Web Resource by Starfish Aquatics Institute.

Effective scanning is a combination of eye movement, head movement, body position, alertness, and engagement.

  • When to scan. Sweeps of your entire zone with your eyes every 10 seconds will be effective in most circumstances. The timing of your scans may vary based on the zone, the number of people you look at as you sweep your eyes, and other factors such as the need to stop scanning for brief periods to enforce rules or other interventions. In general, effective scanning should be timed to allow you to be engaged in searching for signs of life and symptoms of distress or drowning when you can't see that a person is alive and breathing above the surface of the water. If you scan too fast, you will not be able to assess what you see.
  • Where to scan. Scanning should be 3-dimensional. Look at every area of water in your zone - bottom, middle, surface, in corners, below your feet. Your job is to scan the water in the zone, not just watch the people. Triage your scanning by first looking for anything out of the ordinary on the bottom and under the surface (vitally urgent). Then scan the surface looking for distress or drowning indications (urgent) and for behavior that may require rule enforcement (important).
  • How to scan. Move your eyes and your head when you scan. As you sweep your eyes, pause occasionally to focus on a segment of the zone and target (focus on) anything out of the ordinary.
  • What to look for. While you are scanning, look for life! Active swimmers with faces above the water are OK. Target anyone whose face is under the water, either at the surface, just below, or along the bottom. Verify that the person comes to the surface within a few seconds, including anyone who is bobbing up and down, appears to be swimming or playing underwater, or appears to be floating facedown.


Scanning is simply searching the water in a systematic way. Strategies for Maintaining Vigilance


Vigilance
means to be watchful, attentive, alert, and aware. When you are vigilant you have a sense of urgency and understand why it is important to focus on your task. You are expected to be vigilant when you are on station, but maintaining vigilance can be difficult, especially in conditions of heat and during times of low activity in your zone. Consider these strategies to help you remain vigilant and keep your attention from drifting.

  • Make frequent changes (about every 5 minutes) in posture or position (Griffiths 2007). The goal is to keep you alert through physical movement and variation. The exact timing and the changes you make are not as important as the fact that you are doing something. One way to make significant position and posture changes is by switching from sitting to standing or strolling. For example, during the first 5 minutes of your rotation, sit. During the next 5 minutes, stand. Then stroll for the next 5 minutes. The goal is to do some type of movement rather than sit in the same place and position for a long period.

    If your facility has elevated lifeguard stands with only a small step for your feet, standing or strolling may not be practical. In this instance, you will have to identify other ways to meet the objective of keeping alert through physical movement.

  • Keep your mind fully engaged in active scanning, targeting, and assessing during your time on station. If you are moving your head and sweeping your eyes but your mind is thinking about things other than the behaviors of the patrons, you may not be vigilant enough to effectively search your zone.
  • Rotate frequently to get a break from surveillance. Research from other professions that require high vigilance, such as air traffic control and the military, has shown that the ability to remain focused starts to decrease significantly after about 30 minutes (United States Lifeguard Coalition 2011). When feasible, the rotation schedule at your facility should be established so that you are not in any one location for a long time. The short break from surveillance to move from station to station will help you be vigilant. Alternating periods of nonsurveillance duties helps as well, as does taking breaks when you can get out of the sun or go to the bathroom.
  • Use the vigilance voice technique. Vigilance voice is a method to help you explore your zone by putting a voice to what you see (Smith 2006). It is similar to commentary drive techniques used by emergency response teams when teaching driving skills. By talking through every detail of what you see while you scan, you will remain focused and be able to identify problem areas you may not have noticed before.
  • Get adequate sleep, stay hydrated, and try to stay cool. Not being fully rested, being dehydrated, and being exposed to hot temperatures can all impair vigilance (United States Lifeguard Coalition 2011).
  • Participate in victim recognition training (VRT) assessments. Another common method that facilities use to maintain lifeguard vigilance and help you learn to identify a submerged drowning victim is mannequin or shadow drops. This type of site-specific training activity is feasible at facilities where a small waterproof training mannequin or a body outline that lies flat on the pool bottom can be placed into the water without attracting the notice of a lifeguard (see figure 5.2). These unexpected scenarios help you to practice actually seeing something on the bottom. They are also a good way to test and develop zones by verifying that the item can be seen in any location within the zone. Besides doing assessments that simulate a victim on the bottom, management staff should create a way to assess VRT by having a person simulate an unresponsive drowning victim floating on the surface.


Figure 5.2 A silhouette in the shape of a drowning victim can be used to help you learn what a body on the bottom of the water may look like. View from a distance. View from right above.

Figure 5.2 A silhouette in the shape of a drowning victim can be used to help you learn what a body on the bottom of the water may look like. View from a distance. View from right above.
A silhouette in the shape of a drowning victim can be used to help you learn what a body on the bottom of the water may look like. (a) View from a distance. (b) View from right above.

 

  • Participate in shadow guarding. Learning from others is sometimes helpful. Shadow guarding pairs up two lifeguards, one usually more experienced than the other. The less experienced lifeguard shadows the other and learns by observing and discussing (such as through the vigilance voice activity) the best strategies for scanning the zone. If you are assigned to a shadow guard position, remember that your conversations and attention should remain on being vigilant, not on socializing.
  • Participate in a lifeguard audit program.Your facility may have a system in place to conduct unannounced lifeguard reviews, also known as audits. These reviews may be conducted by a member of the management staff (internal) or by someone not affiliated with your facility (external). Reviews keep your vigilance high because you never know whether someone is watching and documenting your performance while you are on station.

    You can't provide constant and dedicated surveillance for one zone for an extended period because doing so becomes physically and mentally too difficult. To give you breaks from surveillance responsibilities, your facility should have a system for frequently moving lifeguards from one location to another. When another lifeguard comes to take over your zone, the change is called a rotation.

Learn more about StarGuard: Best Practices for Lifeguards, Fifth Edition.