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POOL DROWNINGS: The Quest to Resurface

Imagine that you are enjoying a hot summer day under the California sun by swimming in your local community swimming pool. The cold water soothes you as you finally escape the unrelenting August heat. You dive in... but for some reason you cannot resurface... something is pulling you down like a heavy anchor to the bottom of the pool. All you see is an obscure fog of faces and the pale lining of the stairs leading to the surface of the pool. You try your best to swim towards the surface, but this suction-like-force is too powerful for you to overcome, so you're trapped. Is this the end?

The other swimmers begin to panic as they witness you being pulled down, but luckily there is one knowledgeable resident who happens to be a pool engineer. She quickly finds the emergency shut-off switch nearby and turns off the filtration system, which in turn deactivates the suction, freeing you and allowing you to resurface safely.

This situation may have played out favorably this time, but what if there wasn't an informed person present? Unfortunately, pool entrapments are not an uncommon occurrence and have resulted in serious injuries. Especially vulnerable to pool entrapments are children, as according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) over seventy (70) percent of pool entrapment victims are less than sixteen (16) years of age. The CPSC has also reported of cases in which serious injuries were involved, such as the case of a 2-year-old who was pulled down so hard as a result of the suction that his intestines were nearly vacuumed out of his body.

But what exactly causes this unusual, immensely powerful suction? If you are a pool owner, responsible for a community pool, or even just a common pool user, how can you look for signs to prevent a tragedy from occurring?


This suction-like force is usually caused by a faulty drain cover that has become uncovered, loose, outdated or otherwise damaged. Even if it is slightly uncovered, the drain generates such an immense force that entrapment is highly likely and very difficult to overcome. It is thus imperative to make sure that your pool be equipped with a recent drain cover that is fastened by an anti-vortex plate, which properly fastens and secures the cover preventing it from becoming loose. If the drain cover is loose or exposed, it should be visible and generally easy to spot, so checking the drain covers is vital. In California, state law requires there to be at least two (2) drain covers in a larger sized community and/or public pool, so if there is only one (1) drain cover, then there is most likely a statute violation.


The law also requires community swimming pool areas to have an emergency shut-off switch to power off the pool motor in plain view near the pool. This emergency shut-off switch was the key factor in our story and can be quite useful to know about. The emergency shut-off switch is required to be in plain sight for this very reason - to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring. Knowing the location of this emergency power switch can be a very useful tool for anybody who uses or manages community pools. If you do not see the emergency shut-off switch, report it in writing to your landlord, management company and/or Homeowners' Association and request that they show you exactly where it is. 

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