Potential drowning alert system: Redding fathers create swim alarm

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Tom Healy, Paul Taylor and David Cutler are three Redding fathers who created the Wahoo Swim Monitor System to help prevent accidental drownings.

A near-fatal drowning in 2006 at Topstone Park prompted three Redding fathers to take action into their own hands to prevent accidental drowning.

Paul Taylor, David Cutler and Tom Healy founded Aquatic Safety Concepts and created the Wahoo Swim Monitor System.

“We don’t come from the aquatic field, we’re entrepreneurs,” said Mr. Taylor.

The boy who nearly drowned at Topstone was said to be under water for a significant amount of time and suffered severe brain damage as a result.

“Where is the technology to prevent that from happening?” asked Mr. Taylor. “There really isn’t any.”

The three men, who all have children, researched how many accidental drownings take place in the United States, said Mr. Taylor.

“It’s the number one accidental cause of death in children under the age of 15,” said Mr. Taylor. “This is a significant problem.”

When there is an accidental drowning, said Mr. Taylor, there is a “ripple effect.” He said drownings not only affect the families but the community as a whole and staff members and lifeguards involved.

“There has got to be some way to reduce the number of drownings a day in this country,” Mr. Taylor said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day. Of the 10, two are children aged 14 or younger.

The three men pooled their ideas and resources and spent five years doing research and development to create the Wahoo Swim Monitor System.

Using ultrasonic technology, swimmers wear a headband with a microcomputer inside that measures time of submersion within 1/1000th of a second. The Swimband determines the critical moment in time when a submerged swimmer is at risk of drowning — before the event can escalate.

The goal for this system, said Mr. Taylor, was to have early warning indication that someone is missing, in trouble or in distress while swimming, and to have notification or a method of finding that person as quickly as possible.

“It’s horrific — can you imagine losing a child and the ripple effect that has? When we looked at the aquatic field, there is little to no technology in that industry in particularly from the safety standpoint,” he said.

“The three of us saw an opportunity to make a difference. Even if we save one [person] from drowning, that’d make it worth the effort. We want to start whittling away at these epidemic drownings. They only continue to go up,” said Mr. Taylor.

With the passion and drive in place to make a change, the three men educated themselves on what they can learn about the aquatic field. They established a board of advisers, said Mr. Taylor, made up of aquatics experts from around the country to discuss what’s available and what’s doable.

Mr. Taylor said they looked at ultrasound, infrared and radio frequency technology to see what would work best for their system. After deciding on using ultrasonic technology, Mr. Taylor said they found someone who works in wildlife telemetry specializing in underwater communication.

“It fit the purpose of our needs — swimmer is under water, notifies if they’re under water for too long, locates them quickly,” he said.

The way the Wahoo system works is that each swimmer wears a band on his or her head, said Mr. Taylor. The Swimband detects when the swimmer is fully submerged and starts counting. Once the band counts to the 20, the band sends an ultrasonic signal to hydrophones located underwater in the pool. When the signal is picked up it transmits to a control panel and swim monitor unit that has visual and audible alarm capability.

After 20 seconds of being submerged, a yellow light will flash alerting lifeguards that someone is under water for a dangerous amount of time, said Mr. Taylor. After 30 seconds, a different signal is picked up and the light flashes red and sounds an alarm indicating that someone is in severe trouble, he said.

The alarm system works at any fresh water facility including pools, lakes and water parks.

“The locator device on the Wahoo system can do most good in dark water environments,” he said.

At a camp environment, said Mr. Taylor, if the yellow light starts to flash, the lifeguards would do their emergency protocol that includes a buddy check, clearing the water and confirm if someone is missing.

If someone is missing, two lifeguards can use the swimmer locator device that is handheld and goes under water to give a directional readout. The device picks up on the headband worn by the swimmer.

On the device, lights will start to show up and more lights will turn on the closer they are to the missing person, he said.

“The swimmer can be found in a matter of seconds rather than minutes. That right there is the important part,” said Mr. Taylor.

The control panel, that is a type of tablet, logs each yellow alert and red alert and is time stamped and date logged, he said.

The log is helpful, he said, to see if alerts keep happening during a certain shift or shift change and it may indicate a training issue with the lifeguard or it might indicate more staff is needed at a certain time, said Mr. Taylor.

The system is not a replacement for lifeguards, he said. “The system has their [lifeguards’] backs. It’s just telling them someone is under water.”

Feedback from the facilities with the Wahoo system have given positive reviews, said Mr. Taylor.

“The biggest concern is if the kids will wear the Swimbands,” he said. ”Does it stay on, do they wear it? And amazingly it does.”

The Wilton YMCA allowed the men to test the Wahoo system in its pool and that Y was their first customer in 2011, said Mr. Taylor.

“Last year was our first commercial year. We did four commercial installations and one dark water installation,” he said.

Wilton YMCA, Camp Sloane YMCA in Litchfield and Camp Greenwood in Michigan are all using the Wahoo system again this summer, he said.

In May, New Canaan Parks and New Canaan YMCA installed the system in the Kiwanis Park Pond, said Mr. Taylor.

In the fall, the company will be launching a residential alarm system for backyard pools, he said.

“We realize [there are] drownings in the nine million backyard pools in the country so we created a residential, more cost-effective product,” said Mr. Taylor.

For more information and to watch a demonstration, visit Wahoosms.com.

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