Stanly County YMCA system will alert aquatic staff to swimmers in trouble

The Stanly County Family YMCA has become the first YMCA in North Carolina to implement the WAVE Swimmer Safety System in its aquatic facilities.

The system, which monitors the time a swimmer remains continuously submerged by way of a wearable headset, triggers an alarm when the device remains submerged for a dangerous amount of time (more than 15 seconds).

“This system does not take the place of our lifeguards, it is just a tool to help them keep our swimmers safe,” YMCA CEO George Crooker said.

YMCA Aquatics Director Emily James, YMCA Aquatics staff member Graylin Olivieri and YMCA Chief Executive Officer George Crooker model headsets. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Lifeguards on duty are the first to be notified when the system is activated, according to Graylin Olivieri of the YMCA Aquatic Staff.

“The lifeguards wear a watch, which vibrates to alert them to a possible problem,” she said.

In addition to “buzzing” the lifeguard, the system also will trigger a visual and audible alarm on a sensor located next to the pool.

“Legally, we have one minute and forty seconds to respond and rescue when there is such an incident,” YMCA Aquatics Director Emily James said. “This helps speed that process up.”

Should lifeguards have to enter the water for a rescue, a sensor they wear alerts the YMCA front desk to call 911. In addition, the device sends a text message to YMCA administrative staff to inform them  of the emergency.

One of the WAVE system sensors in the YMCA pool area. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

While the local YMCA is the first in the state to install the system, it is also only the second aquatic facility overall to do so. The concept of the system, however, is far from new, according to Crooker.

“We first started looking into something like this six years ago,” he said, “but the technology has just recently come available.”

“The system is manufactured by a company based in Connecticut,” added James, who noted that it was installed on June 1, and will “go live” on June 12, at which time all swimmers of ages 12 and under will be required to wear the headsets.

“We will watch and see how the system works before making a decision on whether to require adults to wear the sensors,” said Crooker.

In addition to the hard work of his staff, Crooker credited Lee and Billie Jean Snuggs and the Smith Snuggs Foundation with helping bring the WAVE system to North Carolina and Stanly County.

The Smith Snuggs Foundation began in 2010 following the death of the son of Lee and Billie Jean Smith Snuggs.

“This new system is very exciting and we’re excited that the funds from Smith Splash can teach kids or anyone to swim,” Lee Snuggs said.

Smith Splash was a fundraiser that began in later that fall of 2010 as a way to honor their son, raise awareness about drownings and raise funding for the YMCA.

“Something like this helps to make a big difference because we know things like this can happen right before our eyes,” Billie Jean Smith Snuggs said. “We’re very happy to be an instrument to help this happen.

“This is just one extension of safey practices the Y already has in place. We don’t want our community to suffer from anything like that.”

Support from the Snuggs Foundation helped offset the cost of implementing the system, which was approximately $17,000.

“It’s a small price to pay to help protect our communities’ lives,” Crooker said.