Like many cities across the country, Austin, Texas, has emerged from the pandemic without enough lifeguards to staff its public pools.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which is still recovering from the pandemic and a particularly devastating winter storm, entered the summer season with a lifeguard shortage.
According to the Austin Monitor, the department put out a memo in January to Mayor Steve Adler and City Council letting them know that the department would need to hire 600 lifeguards by May. PARD fell well short of this target and as of June 14, had only 219 guards on payroll.
The lifeguard shortage has been partially managed through the implementation of a tiered opening schedule across the city’s facilities.
The department considers the shortage to be “a direct result of operational modifications necessary during the pandemic.”
Austin had to stop hiring lifeguards in March of 2020 and wasn’t able to resume hiring until March of this year. Hiring stalled out, as limits were placed on the number of lifeguards that could be trained at one time.
Parks department spokesperson Kanya Lyons told the Monitor that training has picked up recently in order to get as many lifeguards certified and working as possible.
Another complicating factor has been the fallout from the February winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley estimated that the city’s park system had suffered around $1 million in damages as a direct result of the storm.
The city’s aquatics facilities in particular sustained significant damage, and the repair schedule was delayed. The city prioritized repairs on pools that are open all year, followed by pools where lifeguard training is conducted.