SINGAPORE - In August 2018, a 64-year-old man nearly drowned at Hougang Swimming Complex after falling unconscious at its competition pool.
Tragedy was averted, as the pool was equipped with the Computer Vision Drowning Detection System (CVDDS) - which was on trial then.
The system sounded an alert upon detecting that the man had sunk to the pool floor, and the duty lifeguard managed to save him.
Convinced by the system's effectiveness, national agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) will progressively implement it at all 28 public competition pools it operates across Singapore, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in Parliament on Friday (March 8).
Public pools at Hougang, Jurong West, Our Tampines Hub and Bukit Batok will be equipped with the CVDDS by June, and seven more by April 2020.
Said Ms Fu: "Using a network of overhead infrared cameras, the system enables early detection of possible drowning, thus making our pools safer."
The CVDDS separates the pool into grids and uses a software to analyse the real-time trajectories of swimmers, and lifeguards will be alerted within 15 seconds of someone sinking to the pool base.
The system was put through over 1,400 tests, and scenarios such as different weather conditions and unusual drowning positions, and costs $500,000 per pool, depending on varying infrastructural factors, said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
Ms Delphine Fong, SportSG's sports safety director, said the agency relied on statistics compiled over 30 years in making its decision to install the CVDDS at competition pools, which are up to 1.8m deep.
The numbers show that from 1989 to 2017, there were 41 drowning incidents - 39 deaths and two near-drownings - with two thirds happening at competition pools.
Also, 25 out of the 39 deaths involved people above the age of 40.
Ms Fong explained that drowning swimmers are often unable to signal their distress.
She said: "Passive drowning victims... lapse into unconsciousness, and typically don't exhibit signs of struggle (before they) slowly sink to the pool base.
"In the case of active drowning, victims will use their arms to try to press (the surface) of the water to keep their head above water."
Lifeguard Edwin Lim, 34, has been attached to Hougang Swimming Complex for 12 years and said the CVDDS can be a valuable tool.
"Because of the glare of the sun, we have poor visibility sometimes, as well as blind spots, and the CVDDS system helps us detect (incidents) better," he added.
Dr Chiang Hock Woon, SportSG's deputy chief executive officer, stressed that members of the public should continue to take safety precautions when swimming.
He said: "We would like to reiterate that the system or any technology does not replace the need for pool users to be responsible for themselves or their loved ones while using our facilities.
"We look forward to working together with our communities to promote stronger safety awareness and culture, and strive for zero incidents."