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October 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Evolution of DAN

is the Divers Alert Network still fulfilling its mission?

from the October, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we hope you know, we regularly post interesting, unusual diving blogs on our website. The blog post for which we've received the most responses went up last summer when Doc Vikingo asked: "DAN's Alert Diver: Lost Its Mission?" Doc's piece tied in with our June 2010 article about Divers Alert Network's monthly magazine, and whether it had turned into a publication long on flash and full-color photos, but short on DAN's mission of helping divers with medical emergency assistance, and promoting diving safety through education and research.

The discussion quickly slipped into a free-for-all, with questions about conflicts of interest and why DAN board members were appointed to head DAN services and products, while cutting staff members and severing long-term ties with Duke University Medical Center. And why does DAN, a nonprofit, need not one, but three, for-profit organizations under its umbrella? Some comments angered at least one DAN board member, and we received a faxed letter from their attorney, requesting that we remove the entire blog. Of course, we refused; after all, it seemed like a healthy discussion that any member-based nonprofit ought to endure. The debate continued into the fall, and though it petered out and now is old news, it's still online at

One thing we ourselves noticed was a change in the research and educational materials DAN presented to the public. For years, we relied on DAN's yearly Dive Incidents and Fatalities Reports for "Why Divers Die," our annual multi-article investigation into the factors that led to divers' deaths. The 2008 report was the last one DAN published. In July 2010, we published an article about DAN's effort to edit a presentation for its fatality workshop diver deaths by Undercurrent contributor Bret Gilliam and dive insurance expert Peter Meyer. A senior DAN official told Gilliam his candor could prove embarrassing to dive training agencies and operators who would be at the workshop. Suppress dive research just to let the industry save face? Doesn't sound like proper promotion of dive safety and research.

DAN has had its times of contention and scandal in the past, most notably when it forced Peter Bennett, PhD, DAN's founder and first CEO, to retire, charging him with financial misappropriation and other wrongdoings (we wrote several articles about this in 2003). Was DAN facing another time of instability, cover-ups and running an old-boys' network to the detriment of its original mission, staff - - and members?

The dive industry's future hinges on
attracting new divers - - younger people.
DAN's future also depends on it.

We asked DAN for answers. Bill Ziefle, a former DAN board member who now serves as president of DAN Services, current DAN president Daniel Orr, and Nicholas Bird, vice-president of medical services, made themselves available.

Board of Directors or Good' ol Boy Network?

One accusation brought up in Dr. Bennett's time, and again on our forum, was that DAN was run like an old boys' network, with board members easily shifting to executive roles at DAN for-profits, like Steve Frink taking up the publication of Alert Diver, and Ziefle moving over to head DAN Services. Ziegler's response: "One of the board's primary responsibilities is to help recruit and retain a management team that can effectively and efficiently implement initiatives relevant to day-to-day operation of the company. In the case of Alert Diver, DAN was looking to improve the quality of the magazine and expand its mission of delivering content related to diver safety and health. When Stephen Frink agreed to become the publisher, he gave up his seat on the board to avoid any conflicts of interest. The board reluctantly accepted Frink's resignation, believing his contribution to DAN would be even greater as publisher of Alert Diver." If you're a member of DAN, you have no doubt noticed the radical reformulation of Alert Diver. While some people still bemoan the commercialismof the redesign, one must admit that the old Alert Diver had clearly become an anachronism, stuck in the '80s.

As for Ziefle, once his term as a board member expired, he was asked to continue serving DAN as president of DAN Services because of his understanding of insurance laws and regulations; his background in finance made him qualified to lead DAN's insurance subsidiaries. Ziefle told us, "Though it's not common to see former board members assume management roles at one of the DAN companies, when it has occurred, any objective review of their qualifications show they were the best suited for the positions. However, the reverse does not occur at DAN. None of the current board members worked for a DAN company before joining the board."

A New Take on Research

What about DAN's annual incident and fatalities report? When DAN reorganized in 2009, it decided to take a different approach on the report, Ziefle says. "DAN's resources focused on planning and hosting the 2010 Fatality Workshop that not only examined fatality case studies, but focused on learning more about the causes of dive fatalities and how to prevent them (the presentations are at ). By discontinuing the regular publication of its annual report, DAN is able to stay focused on its research efforts, thereby increasing productivity. It also allows DAN to disseminate its findings in the format most appropriate, whether it's a workshop, conference, online seminar, magazine article, a published special report or any other information distribution methods."

And while Undercurrent always found the fatality reports interesting and useful, they largely reported on the medical aspect of fatalities,. One had to extrapolate to understand the fatalities' real causes - - panic, diver error, diving beyond one's capabilities, etc.

Ziefle says DAN has used the recession as "an opportunity to assemble a strong management team for DAN Holdings. DAN also increased resources devoted to activities members tell us they value most, while reducing or eliminating activities less relevant to today's divers." Expanded areas include research efforts on issues most important to recreational divers, like a study on Sudafed and the risk of oxygen toxicity. The DAN education department plans a complete reworking this year of its training and continuing education programs to "respond to member needs and advancements in technology and regulations."

Adding Some Things, Cutting Others

DAN is promoting its 2011 fundraising appeal ( ), which lets divers determine exactly where their donated funds will go, from direct support of the DAN emergency hotline to sponsorship of an educational webinar. Says Dan Orr, "We wanted to give people a greater choice, and be empowered to direct dollars to where they feel have a greater impact."

The dive industry's future hinges on attracting new divers -- younger people. DAN's future also depends on it, and Orr says the for- and non-profit divisions are doing what they can, from supporting the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association's "Be a Diver" initiative to hiring young people who know Facebook, Twitter, etc. "Getting younger divers is a problem for everyone, so we're trying to use social media more," says Orr. There's a DAN-sponsored video talking up diving and trying to dispel myths that it's dangerous. Mobile apps for phones are in the works.

Unfortunately, a few things had to go by the wayside: some staffers, leading to a $1 million reduction in overhead, and DAN's official ties to Duke University Medical Center (DUMC). When DAN was established as in 1990, its employees were part of the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC). Under an agreement, all employees were leased to DAN, which reimbursed DUMC for their costs, including salaries and benefits. "Over time, the complexities of the relationship became increasingly costly and unmanageable," says Ziefle. In 2008, the DAN board decided that DAN employees should work directly for DAN, and all DAN-DUMC contracts expired. "But while we continue to work collaboratively with DUMC, we do not work only with DUMC," says Orr. "DAN has built relationships with the hyperbaric and diving medicine departments at the University of San Diego and the University of Pennsylvania. These affiliations have not only broadened DAN's reach, they have increased the dive accident case exposure for fellowship physicians in training. Our goal is to increase DAN's impact on physician education and the quality of service provided to divers - - and that's the promise we've fulfilled."

DAN still makes some missteps. In August, the state of Connecticut charged it with not properly registering to transact business there. Of the 330 out-of-state firms operating illegally in Connecticut, DAN paid the largest fine, a settlement of $26,955. And, as you'll read in the opposite-page sidebar, companies DAN outsources its duties to may deny - - or promise - - financial compensation to DAN members without the proper authorization, making customers angry and tarnishing DAN's reputation.

However, we see few complaints from divers about DAN medical services, insurance, customer service or other issues. DAN, indeed, has its customers' best interests at heart. As long as financials are properly accounted for and openly displayed, and no behind-the-scene shenanigans affect the services members pay for, then DAN is doing what it's supposed to. But as with any organization in which you hold membership, it's wise to read the annual reports, keep track of member-service changes and additions, and ultimately hold DAN accountable. We do so, because we know that DAN is vital to our industry and for the health and safety of every diver, we need DAN to stay on track.

- - Vanessa Richardson

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