Wanted Life Saving Entrepreneurs!

This past summer, I noticed a trend across the nation.  A major shortage of qualified lifeguards at pools, beaches, and even water parks.  This shortage has led to delayed openings and shortened hours in many pools, closures of public beaches, and more ‘swim at your own risk’ signs across the nation.  On further research, I found that this shortage has been an ongoing epidemic for past few years.

Shortage of qualified lifeguards puts the lives of swimmers at risk.  Multiple reasons are cited for this shortage – relatively low pay, inability to take smart phones to work, summer internships, and rigorous certification process, among many other reasons.   Many efforts have been exercised to reduce this shortage of lifeguards – improved marketing, encouraging retirees, paying for certification, getting foreign students on temporary visa, and many more, but nothing seems to have solved the problem.

As I have always believed, with every challenge comes new opportunities.  It is time to tap in to new technology of robots and drones to help meet this shortage.  By any means, I am not advocating replacement of lifeguards with technology but rather enable them to do more with less.  My intention is to explore opportunities to make the lifeguards more effective by augmenting them with gadgets that enable watch over a wide area and issue timely alerts for swimmer distress.  Make swimming safe!

Some of the innovative minds are already upping their games.  For instance, Microdrones recently demonstrated the ability to rescue a swimmer in distress and Poolview built an artificial vision system to detect drowning accidents in pools.  Considering the direction in which the technology and our society is heading, we might have better luck in finding qualified drone pilots and lifeguard who would prefer an artificial vision system along with the whistle.   It is time to encourage and support Life Saving Entrepreneurs!

– Meghna Sil


Drowning outside of the water – Really?

A little-known threat, dry and secondary drowning, many parents are not aware of. The child is out of the pool, toweled off and dressed – out of the drowning zone. Right? Wrong.

I surveyed a number of parents who have been taking their children to pools and to beaches for a long time, and some of them even have children who have turned out to be accomplished swimmers. I was astonished by how very few of these parents knew about dry and secondary drowning, and even fewer knew what to do when faced with the threat. The number of dry and secondary drowning deaths (as reported, 1-2% of the total drowning incidents) is small, but that is still too many. I am sure there are many such drowning incidents, including near-fatal ones that are not reported.

Dry and secondary drowning can occur minutes after the victim has been out of the water or even after 24 hours after the victim has been out of the water. The symptoms of these two kinds are very similar but are different. In many press reports and literature, you may find these two types are being used interchangeably.

Dry drowning happens when the victim inhales water, and the body in order to prevent water from getting into the lungs, causes spasm in the breathing tube and results in constricting it.   In the process, the supply of air to the lungs and oxygen to the blood stream and brain is cut-off. The dry drowning happens shortly after the incident.

On the other hand, secondary drowning happens when the victim actually inhales water in the lungs that results in a build-up of fluid in the lungs – a phenomenon called pulmonary edema. The excess fluid collect in air sacs in the lung and makes it difficult to breathe and cuts off the supply of oxygen. Unlike dry drowning, secondary drowning can happen much later, usually within 1 to 24 hours from the incident.

Both, dry and secondary drowning, have similar symptoms. The usual symptoms – coughing and/or complaining of chest pain; has trouble breathing; shows sign of extreme fatigue; throws up; and feels sleepy. Some parents might take these signals very lightly as regular exhaustion due to swimming, long and tiring day, etc. Due to reduced supply of oxygen to the brain, the victims may even show signs of erratic and unusual behavior. Do not undermine any of these symptoms. The only way to respond to these symptoms is to seek medical help right away, including, calling 911 if the situation dictates.

And, yes, dry and secondary drowning is not limited to the pool and large bodies of water, they can happen even in the confine of your bathtub.

The incidents like the drowning of a 10-year old boy in South Carolina and near-fatal experience of a toddler in California may have drawn some attention and news coverage. But, there is still much need to be done to increase the awareness. Please spread the word!

– Meghna Sil

Drowning due to a pump failure – Really?

Unfortunately, it does. A water pump failure in a Rayleigh, NC community swimming pool caused the drowning death of a teenager.  The pool water was electrified after a water pump failed and a corroded conductor carried electricity to the pool water instead of taking it to a circuit breaker. Sounds simple, but sadly a teenager paid the price.

This loss of a young life could have been prevented, only if there were stronger regulations around electrical maintenance and inspection. Should there have been an inspection, the corroded conductor would have been spotted before the tragic incident and not after the county sheriff’s office requested an investigation. 17-year-old Rachel Rosoff would still be alive and her family and friends would not be mourning her death now.

The swimming pool, where the tragic incident happened, was built in 1979 and passed the electric inspection then with no requirement for future electrical inspection. Wake County, where this pool is, does not require regular electric inspection unless a permit for major renovation is requested. This pool has been operating since 1979 (37 years) without an electric inspection after the initial one – something to seriously think about. Request for a permit or not, electric inspections should be mandated for the swimming pools, just like safety and emission inspections for the cars.

This incident should serve notice to: the legislators to enact stringent regulations; the swimming pool owners should voluntarily conform to the latest electric codes; swimming pool users should check with the pool owner or management about the currency of the electric maintenance and inspection of the pool.

Drowning due to electrocution is completely preventable. The number of drowning deaths due to electrocution in the swimming pools may be small, but that is still too many.

The report from the Wake County Inspection Administrator can be found here.

– Meghna Sil

Preventing Drowning during Triathlons – are we doing enough?

Yesterday was a sad day for the sport of triathlon. Collin Campbell, a 27-year-old triathlete from Woodlands, Texas, died of an apparently drowning during the swimming event of Onalaska Half Distance Triathlon in Lake Livingston near Houston. According to witnesses, he had crossed half-way point of the 1.2 miles swim leg of the race before going under. He was a well-trained and strong swimmer with no prior health condition. What could have caused this drowning death? Does not look like age, ill preparation for the swim or prior health conditions.

Not long time ago, in April 2016, 25-year-old Taurean Blake drowned in Calcasieu River during a triathlon at Sam Houston Jones Park, Louisiana, and later died in the hospital. He had just started the swim and had hardly gone 75 to 100 yards.   What could have caused this drowning death? Does not look like age or fatigue.

A recently published research by the Duke University researchers indicated that majority of the case they studied were due to some cardiac abnormalities. Some of these abnormalities are not evident under normal circumstance, but may get accentuated by cold water. Should the organizers mandate actual stress test under similar conditions before allowing the triathlete to get into the race? Maybe the self-certification of health condition by the athletes is not working, and the athletes (more so the ones in extreme sports) have too much of ego and sense of invincibility to admit.

Another aspect that potentially can be overlooked is the panic attacks in open water. Too many swimmers with the arms and legs kicking and splashing water can create a very chaotic and claustrophobic environment. My conversations with multiple triathletes (some of them have even participated in Ironman races) make me believe panic attack is not very uncommon, some know how to manage it and some do not. Triathlon is a sport of physical endurance as well as a sport of mental endurance. Should the organizers mandate panic management classes before allowing the triathletes to get into the race? Again, how many swimmers were actually stuck by panic in a real race will be hard to determine since most of them may not admit.

With the triathlon season winding down for the year, it’s time for triathlon organizers and governing bodies to introspect, time to get the medical professionals and technical innovators involved to carve the drowning, and time to bring awareness. Statistically, 1.5 drowning deaths out of 100,000 participants in USA Triathlon sanctioned events may look insignificant. But, for a nation that is thinking of sending a man to another planet, that number is too many.

– Meghna Sil

Electric Shock Drowning – Completely Preventable!

Just this past Labor Day weekend, we lost a young life in Raleigh, North Carolina to Electric Shock Drowning (ESD). A teenage girl drowned after entering the electrified water. Prior to this incident, a 15 years old lost her life in Smith Lake, Alabama to a tragic ESD incident. The teenager’s father had lowered a metal ladder to the water to help her on board without realizing that the ladder was leaking electricity. A nightmare that no parent should live with.

Drowning due to electric shock is not much talked about or mentioned frequently in the news. Nevertheless, it is still a threat, particular, in the fresh water near docks or boats with electric connectivity. The ESD stats available may not be a true indication of the reality since many deaths are simply classified under ‘drowning’.

ESD happens when a human body makes contact with water that is ‘electrified’ due to a faulty electric connection, damaged live power cord, and faulty or no ground fault protection. Human body serves as a conductor and even a small fraction of electricity can paralyze the muscular system, impair breathing and eventually lead to drowning.  A ground fault protection mechanism is meant to help detect electricity leakage and turn the power off.

Every boat comes with an owner’s manual and every dock or marina owner is required to follow certain protocol to keep it safe. But at times, negligence and accidents do happen. What can we, as swimmers, do to protect ourselves? Again the common sense should prevail – DO NOT swim near the boats, marinas or docks, which have electric connections.  If you ever feel a jolt, swim away from the boat or the dock.

Even though statistics undermine the actual numbers, we need to pay attention since ESD is completely preventable. According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, since the experts started tracking recently, there have been over 60 incidents of ESD, several near misses and likely hundreds of deaths have gone unreported; a random sampling of shore power cords in the several freshwater marinas in the US displayed 13% of the boats were leaking lethal amount of electric current into the water. Alarming statistics for something that is completely preventable!

– Meghna Sil

Opportunity to Promote Swimming among African-American Children

Just concluded 2016 Olympics at Rio had many memorable moments that included the retirement of the most decorated Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, and the emergence of Katie Ledecky – call it passing of baton if you may.

Not taking anything away from other swimmers, two of the most significant performances, in my opinion, in the pools of Rio were by Simone Manual and Ashleigh Johnson. They both cemented their place in history – as the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold and the first African American to be in the US women’s Olympic water-polo team.

The contributions of Simone and Ashleigh are much more than just bringing home gold medals. They became role models to millions of children overnight. As evident from various media coverage and social media trends, their successes have reinvigorated the discussion on why the African-Americans are behind in swimming and reinforced the fact (and busted a myth) – yes, the African Americans can swim!

Simone’s gold medal winning performance in the 100-meter freestyle was very symbolic – initially she fell behind, but she kept at it and surged ahead during the last quarter of the race. What a finish! On the other hand, Ashleigh, the primary pillar of the team whose other members were all white, held her own as the goalie and kept the opponents at bay. The color of the skin did not matter!

As the statistics published by the CDC indicates, African-Americans children, age 5-19 years, are almost 6 times more vulnerable to drowning than their white counter part. What can the parents and communities do to help save those lives?

It is an opportunity for the black parents to tell their children stories of Simone and Ashleigh. If one family in Sugar Land can raise a Simone and a single mother in Miami can raise an Ashleigh, many more Simones and Ashleighs can be raised. They do not have to win medals, as long as they learn to swim and enjoy it.

Years of segregation, discrimination and economic disparity kept many African-Americans away from learning swimming and left them fearful of drowning. But, there is no reason to continue to pass the fear of drowning down the generations.

If we believe our society is desegregated, we should formulate policies and legislations to make swimming affordable for all through public-private partnerships and by making swimming lessons mandatory in our schools.

– Meghna Sil

Swimming & Innovation – Wearable that Speaks to you

Hard to believe that the 2016 Olympics just ended yesterday. Gladly, there hasn’t been any controversy over swimwear or any ‘technological doping’. There were some disparaging reactions over ‘drug doping’ by Lilly King and Mack Horton, angst over the water quality for open water events, some pools turning green, and a fabricated robbery that stole very little thunder from some of the great performances in the pools of Rio.

After the ‘technological doping’ scandal in the 2009 Rome Games the swimming authorities clamped down on what can be considered a swimsuit in competitive swimming. Despite the restrictions, the major players like Speedo and TYR continued to innovate while staying within the limitations imposed by the authorities. I whole heartedly support these innovations.

In parallel to swimwear innovation, I expect an explosion of use of smart technology for training our next generation of swimmers; we already are seeing many in the form of video cameras and wearables. Most of these wearable are of, as I call, ‘fit-bit’ genre. In my mind, the next push will be for devices that not only collect performance stats but also provide instant feedback with minimal disruption. In addition, have the ability to load pre-programmed training regimes. Marlin seems to fit the bill very well.

Placement of the device on the swimmer’s body is very crucial for accurate feedback. The device should not interfere with the swimming, should not create unnecessary drag, and should not allow water to interfere with signal reception, if GPS enabled. Similar to some other devices, e.g., Swimbot, the main unit of Marlin is positioned at the back of the head.

Source : http://www.platysens.com

Marlin, which has multiple motion sensors, collects critical performance stats, like distance, speed, lap count, lap time, etc., and communicates those to the swimmer real-time via the bone conductive headset. The designers of Marlin claim that the device can be pre-programed with training routines to guide while training. Marlin also allows the performance data to be synched up with an app on iOS or Android devices for later analysis.

An extended version of Marlin is GPS enabled – good news for the swimmers training for triathlon. The swimmer can program Marlin with a pre-determined course, and it will provide instant feedback if there is any deviation from the course (very similar to OnCourse goggles, difference being, one is audible and the other is visual.).

Overall, it is a great product with effective combinations of ideas previously seen in other wearable devices. The designers of Marlin are raising funds – check out KickStarter. Even though I do not have any affiliation or alliance to Marlin, I am a big proponent of technology and innovations; more so, for anything that promotes swimming, brings awareness to water safety, and encourages more people to swim.

– Meghna Sil

What a journey!

Glory is not new to Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. After 5 Olympics appearances, numerous records and 22 medals (and still counting), he has left no doubt in our minds about his athletic abilities, discipline, endurance and desire to win.   The privilege to hold the ‘Stars and Stripes’ high and lead our country to the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro is a great honor that could be bestowed on the greatest swimmer of our time.

Literally, I got goose bumps as I watched Michael Phelps leading the US Olympic contingent into Maracana Stadium. Even though I was watching the opening ceremony on the television, I felt as if I was there in the stadium.  What a wonderful sight! The joy and the happiness reflected on the faces of the athletes combined with the pride, joy, and calmness on Phelps’s face transported me to swim heaven. His demeanor echoed what he said – “I’m honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S. and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for.”

Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony
Michael Phelps carries the flag of the United States during the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

What a great moment for all the swimmers. Our very own leading the US Olympic team. I am very sure every person on the team is a great athlete having exceptional credentials to be the flag bearer. But, who could mean more for the sport of swimming? Who could showcase better the ability to come back stronger? Who could epitomize Olympic spirit? Of course, it can be debated, but Michael Phelps must be on the top stratosphere with an elite few. It means lot more than adding ‘flag bearer’ to Olympic resume. Team US, you made the right choice!

Phelps’s contribution to the sport of swimming has been lot more than winning 22 Olympic medals or many records he has broken in the water. He is a role model to countless children, who otherwise would have never gotten in the water due to fear of drowning. He has, directly or indirectly, encouraged many children to take up the sport of swimming.   And in this regard, I think, Michael Phelps comes second to none.

While we deliberate, at least for next few weeks while the games are on, about his swimming prowess and how many more medals he can win, we should also celebrate his achievements on and off the water.   Even though this may be his last Olympic, his contribution will be felt for a long time to come.  The mission statement of Michael Phelps Foundation summarizes his contribution very well – “Working to promote healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding the opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming”.

Encourage children to learn to swim and promote water-safety and healthy-living.

– Meghna Sil

Unsafe Water – Rio Olympics

Today many of the news media is buzzing with ‘Don’t put your head under water’ while in Rio.

The Olympics is less than a week away and the waters of Rio are infested with human sewage, bacteria and viruses. Correct, I am talking about the water venues where open water competitions are to take place and putting around 1,400 athletes at health risk.

I have been keeping a close eye since the Associated Press (AP) published its first report in June 2015 on water quality of the open water venues for the Olympics. The findings were quite disconcerting – the analysis of the water samples indicates high contamination with bacteria, viruses and sewage. I know for sure, this amount of contamination in the US water bodies would have been deemed unfit for any kind of water sport, let alone Olympics. Initially it was thought the hazards were closer to the shore, but by Dec. 2015 it was confirmed that the hazards were off the shores too. Some even feel water concerns in Rio is overblown, and I truly hope that is the case.

The latest AP report that just came out is equally concerning, nothing much has changed in past year since the last report. None of the ‘promises’ made by the authorities to improve the water quality were kept. Of course, the athletes have taken all possible precautions, including antibiotics and anti-viral medicines. Is it fair to make the athletes compete in unsafe waters when they have worked hard and built their dreams around representing their countries in Olympics?

I am passionate about making water sport safe. I am not talking about only safety against drowning, but also safety from health hazards. Growing up in the US, we take the water quality for granted. All open water bodies I have been to have safety hazards clearly posted.

Considering the IOC awarded 2016 Olympics Rio in Oct. 2009, the Olympics authorities and Brazilian government had enough time to address the water quality issue. I strongly urge the IOC to use this as a learning opportunity and put some checks and balances in place for countries prior to awarding Olympic Games in future. We want our athletes to showcase their talents in hygienic environments.

My best wishes to the athletes competing to their full potential and come out of the water unscathed and their dreams fulfilled.

– Meghna Sil

Water Wings – not advisable

Red Cross found 67% (two-thirds) of those surveyed believe putting inflatable arm bands or water wings on children is enough to keep them safe when an adult is not nearby. Red Cross warns against using water wings, and so does Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, many of the water wings come with the warning sign – ‘this is not a life-saving device’. The sign means what it says, literally.

Water wings give children a false sense of security and make them over confident even if they do not know how to swim or tread water. Remember, these inflatables are not fault-tolerant. They may leak or deflate with no warning. They can even easily slip off the arms of the kids. Ever thought of the possibility that a child can voluntarily take it off or puncture it while in water?

Interestingly (and rightfully so), some towns in New Hampshire are taking steps to not to allow water wings on their beaches. Simple reason – inflatable ‘floaties’ provide a false sense of security.

Water wings keep the body vertical, a posture that a child may get used to. A habit that may be hard to break out of – it can make a child resist to use correct horizontal posture and motion, and hence impede the learning process. The goal should be to teach the child to swim at the earliest and not to get them used to a ‘crutch’.

The safer floatation devices are the ones that are not inflatable. The children and inexperienced swimmers should rather wear US Coast Guard approved life jackets. Even with the life jackets, the children should be under constant adult supervision. Even better is to follow ‘touch supervision’ method, stay within an arm’s length of the child at all times.

Every summer the stores stockpile supplies with all kinds of water wings and other inflatable ‘floaties’. And as expected, parents line up at the cashier registers to pay for what they think are safety devices.  I hope my message reaches, directly or through my readers, to those who still think water wings are safety devices.

Learn to swim right!

– Meghna Sil