The Marquette Waterfront Safety Task Force (WSTF) presented a preliminary report last week showing data of drowning in the area in the past and suggestions on how to make the waterfront safer.
The report was presented to the Marquette City Commission on Monday, Feb. 28 and showed drowning statistics and accident analysis dating back to 1960. The data was broken up by gender, age and affiliations. The data showed that male NMU students ages 18-24 are the most susceptible to having a water-related accident. Following the drownings that occurred last fall, NMU has increased the number of water safety warnings they put out to students, said Cindy Paavola, director of communications and marketing.
“We did create a small card with quick-to-read tips on (water safety) that were distributed throughout the campus in various ways, such as to all HP200 courses, FYE blocks and residence halls,” Paavola said.
E-mails about water dangers were sent to all registered NMU students during the fall when riptide conditions were at a dangerous level, Paavola said. More water safety information was also added to the Public Safety website, including a riptide conditions link that will be on the home page during the non-winter months.
“Things we do on an annual basis to inform students of water safety include discussing Lake Superior water dangers during orientation, training the RAs and RDs and asking them to discuss this issue during their first house/hall meetings, and putting out special messages to student when the city informs us of especially dangerous conditions,” Paavola said.
One of the biggest discussions that WSTF had was about educating students, residents and tourists on the dangers of swimming in Lake Superior, said Gary Gustafson, chair of the Waterfront Safety Task Force.
“We are looking at using Facebook or Twitter (and) using the technology that’s on campus right now to get the message across, like if the weather is bad and the beaches are going to be closed that that information would get to the students,” Gustafson said. “We’re (trying to) bolster the educational component of our waterfront and not just on campus.”
The WSTF is looking at educating the tourists who come to town by having brochures and colored maps at the hotels and motels that identify where Marquette has lifeguards stationed and where they don’t, Gustafson said. They are also looking at the high school level to reinstitute swimming.
“At one time (students) had to pass swimming in order to graduate,” Gustafson said.
While education is the largest area of discussion, the WSTF is also looking at off-shore support, on-shore support and emergency preparedness and response. Sub-committees were formed to focus on each of these main areas.
“We looked at all four of those areas and looked at how things have been and what things have been provided,” Gustafson said. “We looked at what kind of resources we’ve used in the past and what resources we might use in the future, and basically came up with recommendations in those four different areas.”
Some of the things that the WSTF suggested was putting up signs that indicate no lifeguards are stationed, placing rip current warning buoys, installing the flag system at locations like the one at Picnic Rocks, putting life ring stations and access ladders on the popular breakwaters, enhancing the life guard stations and installing rescue stations similar to the ones along US-2 and in Mackinac County.
The reason the WSTF is looking at installing rescue stations is they realize that when something happens at the beaches, people are looking at basically minutes or seconds to do something, Gustafson said. If something happens, there may be someone at the beach who feels comfortable and maybe wants to do something, but in the past there really hasn’t been anything there to use if they wanted to try to help issue a rescue, said Gustafson. The rescue stations will include a boogie board with tether, two adult life preservers and a ringed buoy.
“But we’re not encouraging anyone to put their lives at risk,” Gustafson said.
These stations would be installed at locations where a lot of people tend be swimming. The WSFT is recommending three of them to be installed between Picnic Rocks and McCarty’s Cove.
According to the data, 54 percent of the incidents occurred at Picnic Rocks. The WSFT is proposing to try to eliminate swimming there at least for the summer to give the city and the weather service a chance to analyze the data they will be receiving from a device that they are putting in the water this spring, Gustafson said. The device will measure the current flow and how strong it is at different times and different weather conditions.
“What we’re kind of hoping for is to find data that will help the city make a determination about that area,” Gustafson said.
The recommendations for Picnic Rocks included a “No life guard on duty” sign, placing a barrier of rocks along the shoreline for 100 feet to 200 feet and to be no less than six feet wide, strategically placing four buoys with “Dangerous Currents” displayed on them, and identifying Picnic Rocks as “red” on the beach map.
The full report created by the WSTF can be found online at Marquette City’s website, www.mqtcty.org. The WSTF also suggests that if you are looking for a place to go swimming to go to an area that has a lifeguard available.
“Use common sense (when swimming) and respect the lake, because I don’t think people realize that it is as dangerous as it is,” Gustafson said.