SMART Pool Operations

Strategy denotes a carefully developed, long-term plan or method of action designed to achieve a winning goal. It makes problems easier to understand and then solve. In aquatic facilities, having a strategy in place helps us understand all aspects of the facility, and how to manage it effectively. This is key to providing a safe and healthy environment for the patrons.

Even the most responsible aquatic manager and operator cannot maintain a facility without a written plan, a roadmap of how all the processes within the facility will operate in the most effective, safe and efficient manner.

The type of facility will determine the depth of the written plan. Each facility has its own set of variables--volume of water, type and function of filtration, circulation requirements and, most importantly, chemical parameters. The goals and objectives of a municipal pool are quite different from those of an aquatic play feature facility.

There are four keys in developing pool operation strategies:

· Daily checklist

· Planning

· Organization

· Control

The Daily Checklist

Traditional swimming pool operation strategy involves a daily checklist. Records of chemical test results, chemicals added to maintain water balance and observance and correction of main drains are only a few functions necessary for the protection of bathers, as well as liability protection for a facility. Also included in the daily recordkeeping are the reports of filtration (backwashing), circulation and cleaning.

Your checklist should identify unsafe conditions that must be corrected before the facility opens. All rules and regulations must be understood by operators as well as by bathers. The best strategy in traditional pool facilities is routine. Merely because the pool looks good does not mean it is safe from recreational water illnesses. A casual attitude toward any of the above procedures may result in harm to bathers.

Planning Ahead

A solid pool operation strategy involves planning with a clear understanding of the facility’s objectives. There are three categories to consider: staff, the entire facility environment and the pool equipment. Scheduling lifeguards, budgeting resources and programming--as well as a development of procedures (opening and closing)--provide for a successful operation. Written communication of procedures and policies will help all aquatic staff know what is expected.

The new Aquatic Play Feature Handbook, introduced in spring 2008 by the National Swimming Pool Foundation, offers an entire chapter on its management and operations. “Management is ultimately responsible for making sure resources achieve the organization’s mission or objective.” Aquatic play features have a completely different set of chemical and mechanical parameters. It is important that the staff understands fully the water-quality aspects of these new, popular water environments. For example, turnover rates for wave pools, activity pools, leisure rivers and interactive play attractions range from one to two hours; a typical recreation pool is rated at a six-hour turnover.


Good organization is critical to effective operation strategy, which includes identifying and arranging work, delegation and definition of responsibilities. An organizational chart is advisable as a visual means of this strategy. Clearly outlining these roles and responsibilities is necessary to avoid delay in decisions and operation parameters. For example, the staff in charge of maintaining the chemical-feed controls must have access to the manufacturer’s operation manual; in addition, by definition, lifeguards must understand their purpose at the facility, and not reduce their effectiveness by delving into other parts of the operation. The on-duty lifeguard’s responsibility is the protection and safety of the swimmers, not checking towels or hanging out at the admissions gate.


The final part of an operation strategy is control. The aquatic management can best run the facility efficiently by measuring performance weighted against the established standards at the facility. By comparing performance to standards, corrective action can be taken, thus avoiding an unwanted incident or safety hazard.

SMART Objectives

The aquatic manager sets the strategy of operation through effective objectives:

· Specific

· Measurable

· Achievable

· Relevant

· Time-based

As an example, the specific would be the chlorine residual remaining between 2 to 4 ppm. The measurable objective is achieved by testing the water. Your staff’s understanding of the value of this residual makes the objective relevant. At this residual, all of the recreation water illnesses are curtailed, except cryptosporidium!

Continuing Education

Continuing education ensures that operators, service companies and facility management are prepared to minimize risk with the latest technologies. “Continuing education brings the experienced professionals back into focus, armed with refreshed and increased knowledge that helps them do their jobs better.” (“Get the Education Edge,” Parks and Rec Business, July 2007). Continuing education is available through various associations and foundations; online courses are also offered in a broad array of topics. The National Swimming Pool Foundation’s online training site,, offers two ways (available in both English and Spanish) to become certified as a pool/spa operator. A two-day, in-class program has certified thousands over the years. In 2006 the foundation launched a blended program allowing busy professionals a way to complete training online (Pool Operator Primer), and then take a one-day classroom course and exam (Pool Operator Fusion). The convenience and effectiveness of the blended format learning are popular with parks and recreation aquatic professionals. To those who do not require operator certification, the online option is an effective stand-alone course that includes the industry’s leading handbook.

Designing your operation strategy around the ultimate goal of safe and healthy swimming will benefit your entire aquatic facility. Be SMART with your strategy. Be sure to communicate, delegate, and continue to educate.

Connie Sue Centrella is Program Director for the online Aquatic Engineering Program at Keiser University eCampus. She is an industry veteran with over 40 years experience in the pool and spa industry. She is a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction and equipment installation, as well as manufacturing.

Bryan BuchkoComment