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Decrease Drowning Risk in Your Community

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Every year, 360,000 people worldwide die from drowning, which is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death. In the USA, most drownings occur during June, July, and August, the warm summer months. Emergency managers should be aware of the dangers of drowning and equip their communities to avoid facing this grisly fate.

What Factors Contribute to Drowning Risk?

Though anyone can drown, certain people in certain circumstances are more susceptible. Keep the following drowning factors in mind when evaluating your community for potential drowning risk.

  • Age. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause for children ages 5-14.
  • Gender. More than 80% of those who drown are male.
  • Lack of supervision.Most children who drown do so when parents are not watching them.
  • Medical conditions. Drowning risk increases for those with medical conditions such as epilepsy.
  • Alcohol. The presence and consumption of alcohol around bodies of water increases risk of drowning.
  • At home. Twenty percent of all drownings happen at home.
  • Shallow water. Twenty-five percent of drownings occur in water that is three feet deep or less. Puddles, baby pools, bathtubs, and other sources of shallow water all present drowning risk, especially for children.

What Can We do to Decrease Drowning Risk in Communities?

Preventing drowning is a challenging process, and the strategies will vary from community to community. Be sure to consult with local medical professionals and other community thought leaders when creating your community’s drowning prevention plan. Here are a few ideas to get you started in preventing drowning this year:

  • Offer swimming lessons in the community.Work with your local YMCA, gym, or community group to provide free swim lessons to children and adults.
  • Teach CPR. CPR saves lives! “Untrained people tend to help others in danger, even in extreme circumstances and can place themselves at risk of drowning,” according to the World Health Organization. “Training allows people to act more safely when performing a rescue.” Partner with a local hospital or your local branch of the American Red Cross to find out what opportunities exist for community members to learn CPR. Then spread the word and encourage people to participate. Teachers, parents, and childcare providers make particularly good candidates for learning CPR.
  • Install adequate barriers around water. Evaluate the bodies of water in your community and install barriers where possible to prevent inappropriate access by children and other populations vulnerable to drowning.
    • Public and private pools should always have four-sided or isolation fencing with self-closing and self-latching gates.
    • Cover man holes.
    • Cover wells.
    • Add fences blocking the most dangerous or accessible parts of lakes and rivers.
    • Add warning signs where complete fencing around a body of water is impractical or impossible.
    • Look for other types of water hazards in the community.
  • Enforce boating regulations. Each year, hundreds of people die from drowning in boating-related situations. Ferries, large ships, and small fishing or recreational boats can all present risks and need to be evaluated separately. Evaluate your community for boating-related risks then educate yourself regarding the laws associated with each craft. Taking steps to enforce lifejacket usage on fishing and recreational boats, for example, can go a long way.
  • Educate the community. Everyone should know the risks of drowning and how to prevent this tragedy. One way to spread the word is through the local media. Work with local reporters to publish water safety recommendations that apply to your specific audience. For example, communities located by the ocean might need information about how to get out of rip currents, but a community in an area with lots of rainfall might benefit more from warnings about toddlers potentially drowning in large puddles after a storm.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to generate awareness about the risk of drowning and provide a starting point for community prevention. It is not a comprehensive list of strategies and is not intended to replace medical advice. Be sure to consult with local health professionals and other stakeholders when devising your swimming prevention inititative.

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