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The Importance of Educating the Public about Rip Tides and Rip Currents


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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

Public health and emergency management disciplines insist that one of the best ways to prevent health and emergency issues is to educate the public. Through education, individuals will better understand important concepts to keep them safe.

When it comes to water safety, unfortunately, many people create serious emergencies for themselves. They don’t understand the dangers of water-related activities.

In fact, few people understand the importance of wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating. Also, they do not know simple ways to keep themselves safe when they are swimming.

Rip Tides and Rip Currents Present Serious Hazards for the Public

Many people do not understand the serious nature of rip tides or rip currents. These powerful  ocean undertows can be lethal and lead to drownings. Often, people do not have the necessary skills to get themselves out of danger when they encounter a rip tide or rip current at the beach.

From a public policy standpoint, it is increasingly important that public health and emergency management agencies educate the public about water safety issues. That work will help prevent swimming-related emergencies in the ocean and mitigate swimming-related emergencies for lifeguards on the beach.

Hurricane Chris Increased Swimming Emergencies

Recently, while Hurricane Chris was churning out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it was creating strong currents at beaches along the eastern shore of the United States.

In just two days, lifeguards rescued 260 people. That many rescues certainly puts tremendous pressure on lifeguard teams. Unfortunately, beachgoers didn’t understand how that type of storm can powerfully affect water currents and make casual ocean swimming more dangerous.

In Georgia, a teenager was swept out to sea by a rip current. He was lucky not to have been drowned, but it took him 10 hours to make it back to the shore.

Public Education Is Not Enough; Policy Changes and Organizational Support Are Also Needed

While educating the public about the hazards of rip currents and rip tides will certainly mitigate these emergencies, public policy changes and the support of local government and other organizations will also be helpful. Recently, the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) created National Beach Safety Week, designed to help individuals learn more about beach safety. This kind of support is crucial to help mitigate water-related emergencies at the beach.

Ultimately, public policy is tied to communities, policies and the enforcement of policies. With public changes and more public education, individuals will understand how to avert water-related emergencies and return home with happy memories of their beach vacation.


Photo credit: GJ Cosker

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.