TECH TUESDAY: Preventing rip current deaths with technology

Tech Tuesday

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)– As temperatures in Michigan rise, so too do the number of people taking the day to hit the beach, leading to a rise in drownings. Scientists hope with a new invention, they reduce the number of people who get into water trouble and save lives.

A common warning you hear each year especially if you live in Michigan is that when you’re swimming in the Great Lakes, you need to watch out for what’s called a Rip current. They’re described as rivers of water that flow near the beach, outward offshore. They’re responsible for 80% of lifeguard rescues each year.

“We estimate that rip currents lead to about 100 drownings per year across the US., said Greg Dusek, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “So they’re the number one public safety risk at the beach.”

Lifeguard David Elder says rip currents are dangerous particularly because people don’t understand how they work, and they pose a risk even in shallow water.

So the NOAA developed a new model, that they say can predict rip currents, days before they form.

About 10-year-ago Elder and other lifeguards shared their on-the-job experience and observations with Dusek, who used that information to come up with the world’s first rip current prediction model. The model is capable of predicting those currents up to six days in advance.

“So what NOAA is trying to do is get people more information,” says Dusek. “So that you’re ready for what hazards to expect at the beach before you set your feet in the sand.”

SAFETY TIPS

So what do you need to do should you find yourself at the beach, the first step is to get information.

“The ocean is an inherently unsafe environment. It is not here to kill you. It is here for you to pay attention to,” said Elder. “Go talk to the lifeguard, talk to the lifeguard, ask him about today’s beach, what’s going on, what’s happening in the water.”

Should you find yourself stuck in a rip current, the key is to not panic. Experts say you should swim parallel with the shore, and seek a flotation device.

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