Becoming Water WaryShawn Slevin
By Michael Griffin
Water is vital for our sustenance. We cannot go more than a few days without drinking it, and we depend on it to wash ourselves and our clothes. Being near it revitalizes our spirits and makes us feel refreshed. We can’t imagine water not being a part of our lives.
Yet water can pose a danger. It’s capable of ending lives in a couple of minutes in a myriad of different circumstances such as flooding and drowning — if we are not prepared. That’s why Shawn Slevin, founder of the Swim Strong Foundation, works to prepare people to survive any imaginable scenario in every water-based setting.
Based in New York, where water levels are rising — as they are in many other parts of the country and the world — Slevin is promoting Swim Strong’s “Know Before You Go” program to educate about the dangers water poses within and outside our homes.
According to SeaLevelRise.org, the waters around New York City are rising approximately one inch every seven to eight years. Such a mounting issue means looking at the prime element of water as a threat, not a once-off as experienced during Superstorm Sandy.
“Our waterfronts are being developed as never before in our lifetimes,” Slevin notes. “That’s wonderful for the person who understands that open water environment and has the skills to navigate it successfully. But for every one of those people, there are thousands more who do not have that knowledge or skill and so the results will be to see our drowning and water-based accident rates skyrocket.”
While it’s not feasible to teach everyone in a metropolitan area to swim (think too many people, too few pools), educating the public about how to conduct themselves safely around water is do-able. So is informing them about situations where they may encounter water where it wasn’t present before.
“Knowledge of water safety should be as ingrained into us in the same way as we know that when we get into an automobile, we put on our seat belts,” Slevin says. “Everyone can learn about the dangers that water represents from inside of our homes to everywhere we meet it out of doors,”
The “Know Before You Go” program, stressing the importance of knowing what to do (and what not to do) by the water, is taught in schools and for civic associations. Over 3,500 people have taken part, from kindergarteners through adults, and from Staten Island to Nairobi.
“Drowning is a leading cause of death of children under the age of five, with most drowning in their very own homes,” per Slevin, who adds that as many as 95 percent of drownings are preventable.
Slevin wants parents to know that the children who are at the highest risk are ages 14 and younger and those on the autistic spectrum. Swim Strong also emphasizes introducing water safety into homes for people of color where no prior weight has been given to the issue.
Informing children about water’s special effects makes them think about it in a different light. Slevin explains, “No one goes to the water and expects a bad outcome. Understanding the nature of water in the different ways we meet it on a daily basis helps us make decisions that keep us safe in and around it.”
“Know Before You Go” deals with varied water situations, including not swimming at pools or beaches without lifeguard, not walking on a frozen river or lake, and assessing the flood risk to an area once the snow melts.
Student feedback is tremendous. Slevin hears how her program helps people make much better decisions around water. The need for dramatic life-saving measures is reduced when people prevent themselves from getting into potential drowning situations.
For more information about “Know Before You Go” and Swim Strong:
For more information about rising sea levels