Of all of the many different statistics that have been burned into my memory over the 20 years I have been passionate about drowning prevention, there is one that stands out above the rest. And for some reason, it is not the statistic you hear most often. It isn’t that drowning is the number one accidental killer of children under five or that in 69% of fatal drowning incidents one or both parents was responsible for supervision. Those are both jarring figures, and those are the statistics you most often see used as evidence that pool safety and multiple layers of protection are vitally important. But the statistic that most profoundly affects me is this:

In 77% of fatal drowning incidents, the child was last seen less than five minutes before being discovered in the pool.

Five. Minutes.

That is the statistic that gives me chills.

Why? Because that statistic isn’t just a number; it paints the picture. That statistic, combined with other data we have, gives you a window into how quickly and easily this tragedy can occur to anyone.

Here is what I mean: like I said, in more than three out of four fatal drowning incidents, the child was seen less than five minutes before the unthinkable happened. In most of those cases, the child was last seen in the house, nowhere near the pool. And in many of those cases, the child was last seen asleep in the bedroom. So, here is the scenario: you check on your toddler who is fast asleep in his room. Safe and sound. You leave, get a cup of water, maybe clean a dish or two, then go back to check on him again just FOUR MINUTES later — barely any time has passed at all. Now, he’s not in his room. You look quickly around the house before running out to the backyard and the pool. And that is where you find him. But it is already too late.

The reason that is scary is because it can happen to anyone at any time. Even the best, most attentive parent in the world cannot prevent a scenario like that on her own. There is no substitute for parent supervision, but when you know that in the vast majority of cases, everything happened in less than five minutes, when the child was last seen safely inside the house, it is clear that supervision just isn’t enough.

This is why we invented the concept of layers of protection for pool safety over 25 years ago. No matter how hard we try, there are going to be brief moments when we are not looking directly at our children. Someone knocks on the door, the phone rings, your older child runs inside with a bloody nose from a flying baseball — life happens. Implementing multiple layers of protection is the best way to make sure that these distractions don’t turn into tragedy.

Life Saver recommends the six layers of protection prescribed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to supplement parent supervision. They are:

  1. High locks on all doors and windows leading to the pool.
  2. Alarms on the doors and windows that access the pool.
  3. A pool safety fence isolating the pool from the home. This fence should be at least 4 foot tall with a self-closing, self latching gate.
  4. An alarm in the pool and an alarm like Safety Turtle that is worn on the child.
  5. Swimming lessons as early as you and your pediatrician feel comfortable. Infant swim instructors start training babies to roll over and float earlier than you might think.
  6. CPR training for you and your family. Administering CPR while paramedics are on the way can literally mean the difference between life and death.

The idea is to come as close to a fail-safe system as possible. You cannot drown-proof a child, but every layer of protection that you add significantly reduces the chance of a child drowning incident– the more, the better. Of those steps, pool safety fencing is arguably the most effective at preventing fatal drowning incidents; it is the only one that physically prevents access to the pool, making your pool safer for your children and your neighbors’.

Most children had been seen just five minutes prior. Layers of protection give you the most important thing in the world in this scenario: time. You wouldn’t own a car without seat belts. Don’t own a pool without protecting it.