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September 6, 2017

How to Prevent Drownings – You are Part of the Solution

An eleven year old girl is looking forward to her friends coming over to her house for a swim party. Before they arrive she says to her parents, “Which one of you is going to be the Water Watcher?” We’d expect no less from the soon-to-be teenager, as she is the daughter of Todd Spitzer – a man who has dedicated his life to public safety as a former prosecutor and police officer – and currently one of five members on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and their representative to the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) Executive Committee and its Board. Earlier this year he also became the Public Safety and Outreach Chair of Orange County’s Drowning Prevention Task Force which he, along with the OCFA and Tustin City Councilman (then Mayor) Al Murray, established in the fall of 2015.

Ensuring the safety of children and the overall community is Supervisor Spitzer’s main focus. It is no surprise that educating his own daughter about water safety was of utmost importance, especially when in Orange County, as Supervisor Spitzer shares, “Drownings and near drownings are occurring all too often – and amid all age groups.”

Already in 2017, there have been 31 fatal incidents and 37 near fatal incidents of drowning, according to the OCFA. Last year there was a total of 41 fatalities and 69 near fatal incidents.

“Drowning is 100 percent preventable,” says Supervisor Spitzer. “And there is something we all can do about it that isn’t difficult. It doesn’t require specific skills or level of education — all one has to do is just pay attention and be aware of their surroundings. Be the Water Watcher.”

But so many people aren’t. And here’s maybe why. They don’t understand how quickly someone can be overwhelmed by water – whether it be a strong swimmer, a child who is fascinated by water, or a senior citizen who might very well be swimming alone. To add to the dire situation, when someone goes under water they cannot call for help. Learned from interviewing witnesses after the fact, fire fighters tell us another trend is that people assume someone else is watching the water. To this point, the solution is the Water Watcher tag (a lanyard with a Water Watcher card attached) which someone commits to wearing and in a sense stands post with their full attention on the water (whether it be a pool, the ocean, a lake, or even small body of water – children have been known to drown in a bucket of water being used to wash a car). But here’s the rule: Once you are the designated Water Watcher, you can’t give up your post until you hand the tag to another responsible Water Watcher – much like handing over a baton in a competitive relay race during a track meet. This helps do away with the… “I thought YOU were watching.” With the tag there is no question who is responsible.

Thanks to Supervisor Spitzer, who allocated funds from his office budget to purchase a large supply of the tags, Fire Stations throughout Orange County have an inventory to give out to families. If your family does not yet have one, you can go down to a local fire station to pick yours up. Then, like at Supervisor Spitzer’s house, consider hanging it near your backdoor if you have a pool, or in a central place in your home that anyone can easily grab on their way out for a day of water fun.

 Beyond what families can do when around water, the Drowning Prevention Task Force is dedicated to being out in the community – having an ongoing presence – to educate people about their personal responsibilities around water. Maybe by now you’ve seen the multi-lingual signage on Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA) busses, heard the public service announcements on cable and at Angels Baseball games, received a digital pop-up ad when browsing the web, or attended one of the press conferences. To further the reach, Supervisor Spitzer, his staff, and college interns have manned a booth at over 20 concerts throughout Orange County this summer all with the purpose to end drownings in Orange County.  While the prevention approach is hard to measure, the Task Force is pleased that there has been a significant decrease in drowning incidents through the summer compared to last year.

Yet as Supervisor Spitzer states, “We’d need more data than just one year to measure the true impact of the word-of-mouth and ad campaign.” What the Task Force does know, however, is that the more cities and people committed to sharing the message, the safer children and the whole community will be.

So far 15 of the 34 cities in Orange County (see list below), as well as several groups, have partnered with the Task Force helping to raise $130,000 for the awareness campaign.  Each city’s commitment ($5,000 to $25,000) is matched by the County up to a total of $250,000 over the first two years of the outreach effort. The goal is to get all cities in Orange County to contribute. If your city is not yet on this list, urge them to partner in this life saving campaign. If they are already on this list, reach out and thank them.

 OC Drowning Prevention Task Force 2017 Donor List of Cities: Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Dana Point, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Tustin, and Yorba Linda.

With summer coming to an end, a grave concern is that people will believe drowning is no longer an issue. Yet, because Orange County has miles of beaches, good weather most of the time, and a culture of recreation and athleticism, the Task Force says it is imperative the awareness campaign be year-round especially since drowning remains the leading cause of accidental death in kids under five in Orange County.

So this begs the questions we all need to ask ourselves… “When will I be around water next?” And, “Will I be the Water Watcher?” The answers just may save someone’s life.  Let’s all do our part!

For more information, go to: www.ocdrowningprevention.com

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