Leadership Training

As the 7 strangers sat in a circle around the table I briefly looked around and was surprised to see each person’s attention riveted on the speaker. The man in front of us was the team leader. He described a time in his life where he found his only son dead in the house. He then talked about the process of coping and how that eventually led to a career change and to working with groups like ours. When his 20 minutes ended, one by one, the group told their stories. The tragedies, challenges, and triumphs. After the leader was so forthcoming, we all felt obligated to refrain from holding back. After that session a weird thing happened. We formed some kind of bond and became a cohesive unit.

As we went through the 12-14 hour a day 7 day leadership course last week, we worked together. We supported each other and we were motivated to make sure we each pulled our weight in the group projects. It even extended to the larger group to some extent. It really made me think about the importance of connecting with all of our groups first on the personal level before taking care of the business at hand. How much more effective would we be if we didn’t waste time competing and posturing?

This strategy was the core of true leadership training. The goal of the course was to give us tools to lead in whatever capacity we had back at home. All were from some type of local governmental entities, so included city managers, department heads, public safety leaders at different levels, etc.

We’ve known for some time that the best results don’t come from the traditional top down, autocratic leadership model. We also know that the “millennial generation” doesn’t respond well to more traditional models. And in many of our worlds, millenials now comprise a significant percentage of the workforce. In my world they’re almost our complete workforce. But I was happy to see that the latest leadership theories don’t advocate losing the chain of command strategy so important to public safety groups in managing a crisis. I was also happy to see that something we’ve been moving towards in the Beach Patrol for some time is a big part of their strategy. The creation of what they called “micro businesses” targeting specific tasks such as strategic planning, non-emergency tasks, or areas outside of the normal day to day operations is a big part of employee engagement. And, time and energy spent on these areas outside of the normal hierarchy pays off exponentially in productivity.

We try to double down on training during these slower times for obvious reasons. This week I was in the Texas police chief leadership series, which, not surprisingly, focused on similar concepts.

I feel grateful for this training and want to commend both the Park Board and leadership for emphasizing the importance of progressive training that will help all departments operate more efficiently and productively.

New Era of Rescue Services?

Recently some footage of what was reported to be the first real water rescue made by a drone at Lennox Head, New South Wales, Australia went viral. There were two swimmers just outside the surf line kind of floating around. The footage was from the drone itself as it dropped this package from maybe 100 feet up. Upon impact this big sausage looking thing inflated. Two swimmers swam over to it and floated on it back to shore. At one point it looked like a wave knocked one of them off it, but the guy swam easily back to it and rode it in. The announcer talked about how it was the first rescue by drones.

Drones have been used by lifeguard agencies for quite awhile now for surveillance. There are a couple of beaches that I know of that fly the on a set schedule as shark spotters. The operators have to be trained as pilots since they’re a governmental agency. Newport Beach, which is pretty cashed up, flies them three times a week for a 20 minute flight. If they see a shark bigger than a certain size they increase the schedule until it moves out of the area. There’s actually an Australian company that has gotten into them pretty heavily for mountain rescue that have been working up prototypes on the beach. The one I’ve seen is called the “Little Ripper”.  The mountain rescue ones have been shown to be pretty effective in spotting lost hikers and dropping survival packages to them as they wait for help to arrive on foot. But the ocean has been more of a challenge.

Most of the commonly available and affordable drones currently have a flight time of 20 minutes and can’t run in over 20 mile an hour winds. The Little Ripper is apparently a bit better in flight time and can fly in slightly higher winds. It also can be equipped with night vision. But even so, that’s not much good in search and recovery operations that typically take place during pretty extreme conditions over large areas, requiring much longer flight times.

This “rescue” was the byproduct of a $430,000 government funded program and it was on a test flight by a happy coincidence. It looks like the two swimmers were not actually in distress, but maybe they were tired. They were able to swim to the tube a couple of times. It looks like had they actually been drowning they couldn’t have made forward motion to grab the float.

I think the day will come where there will be drones available that may be able to augment beach lifesaving programs in very real and cost effective ways. Particularly in remote locations or for search and recovery operations. For now they’re a great way to get a camera in the air for short periods of time under the right conditions. It appears for a while longer we’ll be droning on about drones every time something like this goes viral.

Mind Over Matter

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

I hate the cold. I’d be happy if it never dipped below 80 degrees year round. I have a lot of friends through the International Lifesaving Federation from all over and I mentioned how cold it’s been here to  the head of the lifesaving federation of Norway and to the Executive Director of the Danish Lifesaving Federation. Big mistake. Telling northern Europeans it’s cold in Galveston, Texas is a little like telling someone from Cairo that the Strand is “really old”.

The reply from Norway was a picture showing a road dusted with snow with what looks like a couple of inches on the sides. It says, “In the USA- Close all the schools there’s no way we can go to school in this weather!” Then it’s followed by another picture of a snow covered road between what looks like huge ice cliffs on both sides. The caption for this one reads, “In Norway- Kids if you do well on this test I promise we can take a bath in the lake, your dad will break the ice for us.”

As if I wasn’t already feeling like a whiner, I then got my buddy’s reply from Denmark. Erik told me how they’d gotten to feeling pretty cooped up since the days only had about 7 hours of daylight and it had been snowing several feet, so they hadn’t seen the sun in a number of days. He and his fellow lifeguards decided to go out for some “training”. They went to a nearby lake, cut a hole in the ice with a chainsaw, then put on really thick wetsuits and dive gear. Dropping into the water with a soccer ball, they inflated their buoyancy compensators so they floated up like corks. Standing upside down on the bottom of the ice they played underwater soccer. He didn’t mention alcohol, but I can only imagine those big Vikings coming up periodically to down goblets of ale between points.

It’s all relative. Those replies remind me how good we have it here where we whine about weather that drops a little below freezing. But there’s a deeper level. A lot of things we experience as discomfort or as an inconvenience can be pretty enjoyable once you shift your mindset. With the right clothes almost any cold is comfortable. Or if you shift your mind further you can redefine what “comfortable” is. An older gentleman that many of you know runs every day on the seawall early in the morning. He is always wearing shorts no matter what the temperature. I passed him early one of those cold mornings. As I passed I thought to myself that he must be suffering. They he gave his usual smile and wave and continued his slow, steady pace down the wall looking the farthest thing from cold or uncomfortable as possible.

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

Cold Winter Days

I had a suggestion from a friend this week to write about how we deal with the cold water and air while working in the beach environment. It’s an interesting topic since even when we’re building towers, working on signage, or even working in the office we have to be ready at a moment’s notice to enter the water, potentially for prolonged periods, if an emergency drops.

The water last week dropped into the 40’s, which is no joke. Water in the 40’s can kill you pretty quickly if you are not prepared and don’t know what you’re doing. For this reason, we buy our full time staff good wetsuits that they keep handy at all times. Few people could function for more than a few minutes in 48 degree water without a decent wetsuit.

There’s a misconception that all you have to do is pop on a wetsuit and you’re good in any temperature of water. This isn’t at all true and there are several variables that go into effect when you’re doing rescue work in cold water, such as body mass, how accustomed you are to the cold, etc. Even so, probably the most important thing is having the right wetsuit for both the air/water temperature, duration, and for the activity. But even with the right suit, the first thing that happens when you jump in is freezing cold water slips into the suit, taking your breath away. If you don’t know what happens next you may panic. Fortunately, after just a few minutes that water in your suit is heated by your body and forms a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. This layer of water acts as insulation and actually keeps you warm despite the cold water outside the suit, and to a more limited extent against cold wind above the water.

For example if you’re going scuba diving in 50 degree water you will need a very thick wetsuit, maybe 6 millimeters thick with boots, gloves, and a hood. In that same water temperature, for a strenuous rescue or swim session taking 45 minutes or less you’d want more flexibility in your suit and you’d be generating a great deal more body heat, so you might be happy with something that is only 3 millimeters thick. Some suits are designed for swimming with flexible areas around the shoulders and others are better for surfing with areas around the hips that are more flexible. But all are way better than just jumping in!

Originally wetsuits were made of rubber and designed by a west coast aerospace engineer (who was a surfer) for the military. But soon after the use of neoprene with its flexibility and closed cells trapping air inside the material made it affordable and practical for surfers and lifeguards and later for all types of water sports enthusiasts.

As we continue to see more beach use during the cold months we’d be lost without wetsuits to help us protect increasing numbers of beach users.