“It takes seconds.” Protect your children from drowning

Summer fun often happens in or around bodies of water: lakes, ponds, pools, and beaches are abuzz with activity during the warm-weather vacation months. But fun can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Drowning is the number one killer of children aged 1-4, and it much of the time it happens even while an adult is close at hand.

That’s because drowning in real life doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see. In the movies, drowning people shout and wave their arms. In real life, drowning happens quietly and quickly, as the victim succumbs to the body’s instinctual drowning response. This can look a lot like a child attempting to dog-paddle.

“The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect,” said Mario Vittone, a water safety expert. “There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning.”

The recent tragic death by drowning of Emeline Grier Miller, the 19-month-old daughter of professional beach volleyball player and model Morgan Beck Miller and her husband, US Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, serves as a stark example of how fast tragedy can strike.

“It takes SECONDS,” she wrote on Instagram, urging all parents of young children to be aware of the dangers of drowning.

To see what the Instinctive Drowning Response looks like as it happens, watch this scary video (warning: child endangerment):

Stay close to your kids when you’re in the water and know what to look for. Attention and knowledge are the best tools we have to keep our children safe from this all-too-frequent threat.

Swimming pool and spa safety issues and insurance coverage

If you are one of the more than 8 million households fortunate enough to have a private swimming pool on your property, responsibility for safety comes with the privilege. Each year, 280 children under 5 years old drown every year in swimming pools across the country. For children aged one to fourteen, drowning is the second-most common cause of accidental death. Even if you don’t have children, be aware that about a third of all child pool deaths happen at pools where the owners have no children.
The Pool Safety Council offers these tips to keep kids safe:

  • Nothing is more important to the safety of a swimming child than the eyes of attentive parents.
  • Keep a landline phone near the pool, so that if there is an emergency you can call 911 and the operator will be able to instantly trace the call and send help.
  • Surround your pool with four-sided fencing and a gate that locks.
  • Never leave children unattended in or near the pool. Drowning takes only a few seconds.
  • Even when there is a group of adults present, make sure one is dedicated to keeping an eye on any children in or near the pool. Giving one person that responsibility makes it far more likely potential problems are noticed right away.
  • Make sure your pool is outfitted with approved safety drain covers and an anti-entrapment device to prevent drain entrapment, the often deadly tragedy of a swimmer becoming trapped by a pool drain’s suction. Public pools are required to adopt anti-entrapment measures by law, but PSC encourages private pool owners to follow suit.
  • Take a CPR class to ensure potential drowning victims do not have to wait for paramedics to arrive.
  • When not in use, keep hot tubs covered and locked.

This is the first summer that the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act will be in place since the law’s enactment in December. This law is designed to prevent the tragic and hidden hazard of drain entrapments and eviscerations in pools and spas. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 83 child entrapment incidents reported to the CPSC, including eleven fatality reports, one of them being the one that took 7-year old Virginia Graeme Baker’s life in 2002. Under the law, all public pools and spas must comply with federal standards, which is great – but bear in mind that the accident that took Virginia’s life happened at a private home. If you are a private pool owner, you may want to voluntarily comply with these standards, too – this news article provides compelling evidence for why.
Additional resources
Pool – spa safety and drowning prevention
Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act
National Drowning Prevention Alliance

Check your insurance coverage
In addition to talking every possible safety measure, pool owners also need to ensure that they are adequately covered against any potential risks. If you have a pool or hot tub or are considering adding one or the other, be sure you talk to your agent to ensure that you have appropriate coverage. Here’s some advice from the Insurance Information Institute about swimming pool coverage:

Let your insurance company know that you have a ool, since it will increase your liability risk. Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” and it may be advisable to purchase additional liability insurance. Most homeowners policies include a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability protection. Pool owners, however, may want to consider increasing the amount to $300,000 or $500,000.
You may also want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing an umbrella liability policy. For an additional premium of about $200 to $300 a year, you can get $1 million of liability protection over and above what you have on your home. This would also provide added liability protection when you drive.
If the pool itself is expensive, you should also have enough insurance protection to replace it in the event it is destroyed by a storm or other disaster.