Backyard pools are increasingly popular, but owning one is a major responsibility. In April, 4-year-old twins in Union, New Jersey, snuck out to their pool after their mom had dozed off. They drowned. Take these precautions to protect your kids and any other children who visit your home.
Know where your child is at all times. If she's missing, check the pool first. Most kids who fall into pools do so when their parents are inside and have no idea their children are near the water. "I have five children, and I know how hard it is to keep track of your child 100 percent of the time -- but if you own a pool, you have to," says Dr. Krzmarzick. Emphasize the need for constant supervision to babysitters.
Surround your pool or hot tub on four sides with a fence that is at least 4 or 5 feet high. "This is called isolation fencing, and it prevents direct access to the pool," says Williams. Isolation fencing that's tough for kids to climb on can prevent more than half of pool drownings, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Make sure that the gate leading to your pool is self-closing and self-latching, and that it opens out. Latches should be above a child's reach, and the space between the bottom of the fence and the ground should be less than 4 inches. Never prop open a gate to the pool area.
Set up several roadblocks. Equip doors, gates, and windows that lead to the pool or hot-tub area with locks and alarms. "You should be able to hear a buzzing noise every time the door or gate opens," says Dr. Krzmarzick. It's safest to also invest in a sonar device that sets off an alarm when something enters the water; if that isn't practical, get a floating alarm that goes off if the water is disturbed. Cover your pool with a rigid safety cover (preferably a motorized one) whenever you're not using it, even during swimming season. With an above-ground pool, remove ladders and steps when they're not in use.
Don't leave toys in the pool area or use chemical dispensers that look like toys. Your child might run after a ball, for example, and trip. "I remember a 2-year-old who rode his tricycle into the pool area and fell off into the water," says Rohit Shenoi, MD, an emergency-room physician at Texas Children's Hospital, in Houston.
Be prepared for an emergency. Keep a phone by the pool so you can call 911. Learn CPR, and make sure your child's caregivers know it too. "The most important factor in saving your child's life is to pull him out of the water quickly and start CPR immediately, even before EMS arrives," says Dr. Shenoi.