The Cement Pond

By Rick Braschler

I recently watched one of the early episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies, where Jethro schemes to put an alligator in the cement pond to scare away all of Ellie Mae’s “critters.” In the end, Grannie subdues the gator with her double-barreled shotgun to save the day while television viewers laughed at the hilarious antics. Fast forward to today and Jethro and Grannie could be arrested or fined in violation of various ordinances regarding the unlawful possession of a wild animal, the harvesting of an alligator without a license, discharging a weapon inside the city limits, and possibly violating health department regulations for introducing contaminants into a regulated pool system.

Meanwhile, back at camp, the cement pond is one of the most celebrated areas in camp offering activities like water polo, diving, water slides, and well, swimming. From slips and falls to shallow-water diving impacts to breath-holding blackouts and Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs), the threats are many and can cause serious to fatal outcomes. My experience with camp pools across the country continues to reveal animals in pools, bather overloads, chemical imbalances, improper fencing, and slippery decking—just to name a few.

The Ferocious Five
RWIs are diseases that are transmitted through recreational use of water, including waterslides, swimming pools, and lakes. Some diseases infect the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, while others infect skin, ears, and eyes. While there are numerous RWIs to combat, here is a quick look at what I refer to as The Ferocious Five: Crypto, E. coli, Giardia, Noro Virus, and Shigella.

1.       Cryptosporidiosis, or “Crypto,” has become recognized as the most common cause of RWIs in the United States. It causes diarrhea and respiratory infections, cannot be seen by the naked eye, survives for a long period of time, is resistant to chlorine disinfection, and takes approximately six to seven days to kill in a chlorinated swimming pool. Crypto is typically transmitted into pool systems via human or animal fecal emissions, such as diarrhea.

2.       Escherichia Coli, or “E. coli,” bacteria causes severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps and can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is the principal cause of acute kidney failure in children. Chlorine is very effective in killing E. coli in less than one minute upon contact.

3.       Giardia causes a protozoan infection principally of the upper small intestine and takes approximately 45 minutes for chlorinated water to kill it. Giardia is typically transmitted into pool systems via human or animal fecal emissions.

4.       Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis. Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people, are very contagious, and can spread easily from person to person.

5.       Shigellosis is a disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella, which infect the GI tract. The disease is characterized by diarrhea accompanied by fever and nausea, vomiting, and cramps. It is present in infected individuals’ stool while they are sick, and for a week or two afterwards.

Many states and cities have created standards for camps and lodging establishments that offer aquatic activities, such as pools, waterslides, or splash pads. These standards typically outline the supervision, safety equipment, and water-quality expectations that help provide for a safer swimming experience. While some camps may not have to legally comply with these standards based on certain exemptions, I do recommend that camp leaders be aware of these standards and adopt them as needed in an effort to improve safety outcomes.

Lifeguards And Spotters
There is some debate over the exact number or ratio of skilled versus unskilled supervisors overseeing aquatic activities in a camp setting. A skilled supervisor (“lifeguard”) has completed and passed one of the following lifeguard certification courses:  American Red Cross, Ellis & Associates, YMCA, or a similarly recognized course. An unskilled supervisor (“spotter”) has not taken a certified lifeguare course but provides visual monitoring of aquatic activities while not engaging in the activity so as not to be distracted.

Certain lodging jurisdictions require at least one certified lifeguard for swimming pools that have a minimum pool surface area of 4,000 square feet, with one additional lifeguard for each additional 2,000 square feet. This is the reason many motel pools are intentionally constructed below the square-foot requirement—to avoid the lifeguard expense.

Other requirements suggest a minimum of one lifeguard and two spotters for the first 25 bathers, with an additional lifeguard for more than 25 bathers, always maintaining a one staff member to 10-camper minimum ratio throughout the activity. 

In some areas of the country, two or more standards may apply and offer conflicting requirements. I recommend that camp leaders assess their type and use of pool facilities and adopt the appropriate supervision standards, both state and industry, that best serve to safeguard campers.

No Lifeguard Alert: Whenever the pool area is open for use and no lifeguard service is required or provided, warning signs should be placed in plain view at the entrances and inside the pool area that read “WARNING--NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY” in legible letters at least four inches tall.

Life-Saving Equipment
Perhaps the most common form of safety seen at pools is the lifesaving equipment located adjacent to the pool.

Most standards require the following equipment to be available in a conspicuous location:

·         One throwable device

·         One reaching device

·         One Red Cross standard first-aid kit

·         One spine board.

A “throwable device” represents a U.S. Coast Guard-approved ring (18 inches in diameter), or throwing buoy fitted with a ¼-inch diameter line with a length of 1½ times the maximum width of the pool or 50 feet, whichever is less. A “reaching device” is a life pole, or shepherd’s crook-type pole, having blunted ends with a minimum length of 12 feet and able to reach the center of the bottom of the pool at the deep end. A “spine board” is often called a backboard or scoop stretcher, installed with a head-restraint system or available C-collar. Lastly, a Red Cross standard 16-unit first-aid kit, or its equivalent, should be available.

Note: Some standards also require additional throwable and reaching devices for each 2,000 square feet of water-surface area beyond a minimum threshold.

There is one standard that is not widely known but does exist in some jurisdictions across the country—an “attendant alarm!” Essentially, any swimming pool at which the attendant does not have a direct view at all times shall have, in the immediate vicinity of the pool, a clearly labeled alarm device that can be activated when a bather is in trouble, and is easily heard throughout the area or building. Or, the facility shall have a non-pay telephone permanently installed at pool side, which is readily accessible. The telephone shall have signage stating “Call 911 in case of emergency,” or have contact directly with an attendant.

Depth Markings, Decks, And Rules
Depth markings should be plainly marked at or above the water surface on the pool wall and on the edge of the pool deck, at maximum and minimum points of break between the deep and shallow portions, and at intervals of not more than 25 feet, with intervals measured peripherally. Numbers on the depth markings should be four inches minimum height and a contrasting color with the background for easy identification.

Decking should entirely surround the pool and be constructed with a surface width of not less than five feet from the pool edge to allow for adequate walking paths. The decking should have a slip-resistant surface and be easy to clean and maintain. It should be completely surrounded by fencing not less than four feet in height, and with gaps no wider than four-inches between planks or spindles. The entrances should have self-closing gates with self-latching locks located at least four feet high to prevent young children from accessing the pool without adult supervision.

Pool rules should be located on a sign in a conspicuous place with letters at least four inches in height. Letters should have a contrasting color from the background for easy identification. Sample pool rules include:

·         Children shall not use the pool without an adult.

·         Persons with infections are not permitted.

·         No food, drink, gum, or tobacco is permitted in the pool or on the deck.

·         No containers made of glass or shatterable plastic are permitted.

·         Shower before entering and after use of toilet facilities.

·         No running or rough play is allowed.

·         No pets are allowed.

·         Do not leave small or young children unattended.

Disinfection And Chemical Storage
The design of pools should provide for continuous disinfection of the water with an effective disinfectant and that can be easily measured. Pool-water quality should be checked at least twice a day for both chlorine and pH levels and logged as follows:

·         Free chlorine: Chlorine available to disinfect (kill bacteria) residual of at least 1.5 parts per million (ppm) and 5 ppm.

·         Combined: If the concentration of combined chlorine is greater than 0.2 ppm, then the pool should be super-chlorinated to reduce the concentration of combined chlorine. Super-chlorination: free chlorine is raised between 5 to 10 ppm. Swimmers are not allowed back in the pool until residual is below 5 ppm

·         Total: All of the chlorine in the pool (free and combined) is at least 1.5 ppm and not more than 5 ppm. (Note: pH levels are important because they prevent eye irritation as the pH of our eyes is 7.5 pH maintained between 7.2 and 8.2).

Chemical-Storage Rules

·         Store like chemicals with like chemicals. Store acids separate and away from bases.

·         Never re-use chemical containers, especially to store other chemicals.

·         Never use the same scoop or utensil for different chemicals.

·         Never use the same cloth to clean up spills.

·         Store on a non-absorbent surface.

·         Never expose chlorine to motor oil or transmission fluid (combustible).

·         Store in accordance with the manufacturer’s label.

Water Clarity And Turnover
Water clarity is critical for lifeguards to adequately monitor swimmers under the water’s surface. Pool water should have sufficient clarity so the main drain cover is readily visible at the deepest point of the pool when viewed from the side of the pool. A black drain cover or two-inch circle around the drain cover is usually sufficient in most jurisdictions.

The turnover rate for pool water should be at least every six hours in order to adequately filter the water. If needed, a flow meter can be used to determine flow and turnover rates.

The camp pool was and still is one of the most fun activities in the entire camp experience. By following these safeguards on a consistent basis, you will greatly advance the safety outcomes of the aquatic program, thus creating lasting memories. As for the Beverly Hillbillies, well, the characters won’t have to change their jingle to “black gold, Texas tea, and cryptosporidium.” 

Additional Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming (

Consumer Product Safety Commission (

The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (

National Swimming Pool Foundation ( 

Rick Braschler is the Director of Risk Management for Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Mo., a Senior Risk Consultant in Youth Protection, and an expert in camp risk and safety management. Reach him at or (417) 266-3337.  For more information about Rick, visit