Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Lifeguard Situation in California

Here's a recent communication that originated with the Orange County (California) Register:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
State lifeguard funding gets a reprieve. Public safety mandates staffing.
The Orange County Register

Lifeguard service at area state beaches will be as robust as in years
past this spring and summer – but after Labor Day, all bets are off.

That's the message from Rich Hayden, acting sector superintendent for
San Clemente, Doheny and San Onofre State Beaches. The move follows a
Register news article that reported a warning from Hayden's
colleague, Steve Long, about dangerously low levels of lifeguard
staffing due to budget constraints.

"Steve Long's (warnings) in the Sun Post News and the Register did
set off some seismic shock waves up in Sacramento, as you might
imagine," Hayden told San Clemente parks commissioners Tuesday
night. "Action at the Sacramento level was very swift. Monies were
freed up and sent down to our district. We got some money that made
us whole, meaning that from now until the end of the fiscal year on
June 30 there will be no change in the state lifeguard service."

This applies to the entire South Coast District – San Onofre, San
Clemente, Doheny, Crystal Cove, Huntington Beach and Bolsa Chica
State Beaches, said Rich Rozzelle, district director.

"We are moving monies around from one pot to the other to put
lifeguards on the beach and maintain a level of service for public
safety," Hayden said.

He said the plan is to extend traditional levels of service through
the summer, although uncertainties surround a new state budget that
is due July 1. That budget may not be adopted until the fall, Hayden

"Once we get a signed budget, I don't know … if it does come up that
we take a (forecasted) 50-percent cut." Hayden said. He spends 60
percent of his budget for seasonal lifeguards in July and August so
there would be consequences. "I'm going to have to find that money
someplace or ask for forgiveness at the end of the fiscal year.
That's the stark reality of it," he told the city.

City officials had voiced concerns and invited Hayden to appear
before the commission to discuss state lifeguarding scenarios
affecting San Clemente.

"State parks has gotten to a point where we're at critical mass,"
Hayden said. "We cannot take any more cuts."

He said the current park entry fees – $10 per car – are about as high
as users can take.

Parks commissioners voted 6-0 to encourage area residents to write
Gov. Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers to protest lifeguard cuts in
the new budget. Commissioners also asked San Clemente's city staff to
work closely with state parks to ensure there is ample protection on
state beaches bordering the city's beaches.

Residents can send e-mails to

Contact the writer: or 949-492-5127

Outdoor health and safety concerns are not immune from economic conditions. The public's opportunity to be kept safe requires money and manpower. Lifeguards, park rangers, road warning crews, firefighters, outdoor educators, and every other position imaginable require robust budgets and infrastructure, and in our current declining economy become vulnerable to fiscal constraints. As we can learn from the report above, advocates for safety are now required to be vocal up to the point of political lobbying, because it may no longer be safe to presume that health and safety will take priority over competing programs.

There are solutions to cut-backs, such as shifting resources and volunteers, but these may only be stop-gap and insufficient to replace the original services. It will be tragic to witness the curtailing of essential safety programs leading to increased injuries or even deaths. Of course, we all understand the hard choices presented by insufficient funding and that recreational safety may not be able to compete with other very appropriate public health initiatives, such as immunization programs.

So, given that we know that times may become tough, and that the definition of discretionary (e.g., non-essential) spending may be expanded, we should be prepared to make the case for our causes, and be prepared to find solutions should resources become limited. Safety and injury prevention in a problematic economy should be everyone's concern, beginning right now.

image of lifeguard courtesy of

Preview the 25th Anniversary & Annual Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society, which will be held in Snowmass, Colorado July 25-30, 2008.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.