In response to the recent drownings of several young children, Huntington Beach is weighing whether to become one of the first cities in the nation to require the installation of pool motion sensors that emit an alarm when someone or something falls into the water.
Under a proposal now being studied by the city, the alarms would be required on all new pools and whenever a property with an pool is sold.
Most cities, including Huntington Beach, already require fencing around new pools to prevent toddlers from falling in when adults aren't around. But Councilman Dave Garofalo, who introduced the proposal, said the motion alarms offer extra protection.
"It isn't the final answer," Garofalo said. "But let's fix administratively what we can. If you sell a house that has a pool, at the close of escrow, the pool needs to have a motion detector."
Garofalo said the proposal was inspired by the February drowning of a 4-year-old boy in the councilman's neighborhood. It was one of eight backyard pool drownings so far this year in Orange County.
A 3-year-old La Palma girl died Sunday after falling into her family's backyard pool.
Also over the weekend, a 4-year-old drowned during a birthday party at the Malibu-area home of rock star Tommy Lee. And earlier this month, a 2 1/2-year-old girl and her 18-month-old brother drowned during a family gathering in a Rancho Cucamonga backyard.
The Huntington Beach proposal comes as pool alarms have come under increased scrutiny by federal regulators.
Only three of five alarms tested by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission performed well enough to warrant the group's recommendation, and then only when used with other preventive measures, according to a study completed last year.
The commission found that alarms that detect motion underwater are the most effective. Garofalo's proposal would require these types of alarms, which cost about $350.
Some safety experts, however, warn that parents should not consider the devices foolproof, because they often emit false alarms.
"Some systems are very sensitive," said Michelle Feczko, injury prevention coordinator at Children's Hospital of Orange County. "If a leaf goes in the pool, they might go off."
But Garofalo said that any extra measure that might prevent a child's death is worth the investment.
"What's better? Not having it at all or the possibility of saving a child's life?" said the councilman, whose plan also calls for pool safety public service announcements on the city's cable TV station and free swimming lessons for Huntington Beach residents.
The proposal is getting a mixed reception by residents and city leaders.
"I don't think it's the ultimate answer," said Rick Graves, head coach of the Golden West College Swim Club. "But if it helps, if there is a way that we can prevent the loss of life, we should go forward with it, particularly with such a small investment."
But some City Council members questioned whether the city could monitor its thousands of swimming pools to make sure the alarms were installed and working.
"I like the idea," Councilman Ralph H. Bauer said, "but if we do
this, we have to have a code enforcement person making sure it's in working order."
Councilwoman Debbie Cook agreed: "Of course people want to save lives, but we certainly don't need the city to hire more people for code enforcement. I'm not sure this is the best way to go about it."