WILD WORLD is a water-minded theme park, a clean and cheerful place for family outings, and it is close to Washington in Largo, Md. Families who have visited the park will remember the rides and the shows, but its most spectacular feature has been the water slides--high, long, spiraling, fast and fun.
This year a new attraction has opened at the park --a giant wave pool that uses a machine to simulate ocean waves. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to pretend one is at the seaside without the bother of bridge crossings and sand flies. But this week, a 9-year-old boy drowned in the pool, and the community needs to be reassured that this facility is really safe.
First, a description: the pool is the largest of its kind in the world, covering an acre of ground and holding a million gallons of water. At one end it is 8 feet deep, and the waves, when the machine is turned on, add another 4 feet. It can also be crowded. Park authorities claim that the pool can hold 2,000 people. A dozen lifeguards are stationed around the pool and are equipped with buttons to turn off the wave machine and to sound alarms. At most times the pool is filled with rubber rafts-- available for rent at $3 each--many carrying young children.
Here are some suggestions prompted by a visit to the pool on a hot weekday afternoon: Prudent parents should not allow young children in this facility alone, even if the child is a swimmer. Groups of children, such as day camps and church classes, should have adult supervision in the water--not more than three children per adult. Access to the pool should be limited, for even with the best of intentions and equipment, it is extremely difficult for lifeguards to supervise thousands of people in one undulating pool. Safety experts should review their estimate of the number of people the pool can accommodate without hazard and study the possibility of allotting places by colored badges, for example, with a new group allowed into the water every 15 minutes. And floats should be banned. They give children a false sense of security, a belief that they will be safe in rough water far over their heads; they add tremendously to the crowding of the pool; and they are so numerous and float so closely packed together that it is possible for a swimmer to get trapped beneath them.
Aside from the press accounts, we know nothing of the circumstances of the drowning this week and do not intend to assess blame. But we agree with a park spokeswoman who warned, "There are inherent risks in a public place and people need to be aware of those risks and take responsibility." Parents, in particular, should remember that while wave pools can provide exhilarating and healthy fun for a family, they are inherently different from ordinary pools and the ocean. Because most children are unfamiliar with these new facilities, they must be taught, helped and, above all, supervised in the safe enjoyment of the pool.