OC Beach Patrol Anything But A “Just Add Water” Operation

BERLIN – If you last visited the beach sometime before
Sunfest weekend last year and plan on returning for Memorial Day this year, it
would be no surprise to see the same lifeguard stands on the beach, each manned
by a surf rescue technician (lifeguard) wearing the familiar red uniform of the
Ocean City Beach Patrol.

But, you would probably be surprised to see one of those
stands passing through Pennsylvania or Western Maryland in the back of a beach
patrol vehicle full of rescue buoys, and with a caravan of beach patrol
vehicles following close behind. However, this is a common site from February
to April as the patrol takes its recruiting and testing efforts on the road.

Although the white stands are pulled off the beach and the
lifeguards busy with their off-season occupations, this doesn’t mean the Ocean
City Beach Patrol is taking a break. The patrol is a year-round operation with
many key staff members working busily behind the scenes in the fall, winter and
early spring months planning and preparing for the upcoming season.

There are many critical, yet seldom noticed projects going
on during the winter months that make the patrol appear to be a “just add
water” operation as Captain Butch Arbin often says. It seems as though they are
able to “just add water” on Memorial Day and have everything up and running as
smooth as silk. However, it is because of the work and planning that takes
place in the “off season” that this illusion exists. There are close down
tasks, inventory, employee evaluations, recruiting efforts, strategic planning
meetings, budget planning and many other things taking place during the “off
season” months.

The first noticeable evidence that the Beach Patrol is no
longer “in-season” is the removal of the lifeguard stands from the beach. A lot
must happen before the stands are ready to be placed on the beach to start
another season on Memorial Day weekend. The stands need attention over the
winter before they go back out to the beach. Each sign and pull bar must be
removed so they are not damaged during transport. The Beach Patrol uses ATV’s
and trucks to move the stands from the beach to two storage areas. The
Recreation and Parks Department will evaluate each stand and transport those
needing repairs to the carpenters shop. Repaired stands are then taken to
another building where public works employees paint any new wood and touch-up
worn areas. When this work is completed, officials know how many new stands to
order for the following year.
Another example of off-season activities is the annual summative evaluation of
each of the 200 employees. On a weekend between October and November, the
sergeants meet at Beach Patrol headquarters in Ocean City to complete the
annual summative evaluations for crew chiefs, assistant crew chiefs, SRTs, and
surf beach facilitators. Their primary goals are to help identify a target
number of personnel whose return can be predicted, make recommendations for promotion
and identify any person not to re-employee for another season.

Although the number of new recruits needed is always less
than returning veteran employees, the OCBP does not wait for new recruits to
walk up and apply for jobs. It goes out and recruits the best candidates from
colleges, universities, health clubs, job fairs and swim teams. Although the
high quality of prospective SRT’s recruited by current employees is probably
the single most important factor in the performance of the patrol in its daily
operations, leaders must get a new crop of rookies every year to keep the
patrol thriving. Recruiting and testing begins in August and September every
year to fill positions for the following season. Testing is then resumed in
late February at various off-site locations, as close as Salisbury University,
as far west as Frostburg University and as far north as York, Pa. Historically,
about half of the candidates that begin a test at one of these locations will
successfully pass all aspects of physical skills evaluation.

All of the equipment maintenance, recruiting and testing
done in the off-season enables us to look like an instant beach patrol. But
none of these things happens automatically.

The most important weekend of the year for the patrol is the
winter weekend when senior staff and representatives from other ranks gather at
headquarters for the Strategic Planning Meeting. Some participants travel from
as far as upstate New York and Miami, Fla. This year’s strategic planning group
numbered 27. The agenda was jam-packed for both days.

Captain Arbin opened the meeting with his customary energy
and enthusiasm before allowing time for all to share individual post-season
updates. Arbin led a group debriefing, setting goals and objectives for the weekend.
Discussion topics had been emailed ahead of time. The staff then broke off into
groups, according to position, in order to discuss the assigned topics. The
entire group reconvened to share results under direction of 1st Lt.
Skip Lee. The outcome from the discussions will have a significant impact on
many of the operations and procedures of the OCBP for the 2007-2008 season and
years to come.

Several town officials were invited to visit on Saturday
and to share information. Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster, updated
the group on several issues that will impact the patrol this year. The group
then worked on scheduling many of the competitions, meetings and other events
that held each year. Sergeants and crew chiefs worked on assignments given by
Arbin, while the lieutenant group met on administrative issues. The secretaries
completed the winter newsletter mailing.

Amid
all this, Arbin continues to prepare the 2007-2008 budget. The budget process
begins in August and requires the captain to predict the number of guards that
will be working two years into the future. On Feb. 16, Arbin and Shuster met
with City Manager Dennis Dare and the city’s budget director, Jennie Knapp, to
discuss the proposed patrol budget. With only very small modifications, Dare
will move the Beach Patrol budget as proposed to the final level where it goes
before Mayor and Council for approval.  

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