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Ike Anniversary

We heard a lot about Hurricane Harvey, but September 13, the anniversary of Hurricane Ike, came and went without much fanfare.

I still remember how the water felt as I slogged down 16th street heading into the biting wind. How the grit had gotten in my water shoes and how saturated my skin felt after several hours in and out of the water. The fear in my stomach as a transformer blew close by. Wondering if the electricity could travel through the water to me. Trying to breathe and see through the thick smoke coming off of the huge fire burning at the Yacht Basin.

It seems like yesterday I felt the tiny boy’s hand in mine, as I held on to him and his sister while walking chest deep in the grimy soup next to their mom and pulling a rescue board piled with another sibling and a few belongings that they begged to bring along. Bringing them to high ground at Broadway and piling them into a waiting police car that would take them to the emergency shelter at Ball High school. Taking a moment to watch them drive off and grab an energy bar before heading to the next group a few blocks away.

Those of us that went through Hurricane Ike have memories like this etched into us that probably will never leave. Unfortunately, as time slips by, that institutional memory fades. But it’s encouraging how much better prepared each group is now as a result of lessons learned.  Charlie Kelly, who is no longer with us, was the Director of the Emergency Operations for Galveston for many years. He once mentioned his fear that all the event memory would be lost as people who went through the storm moved on. Fortunately, proactive planning if done correctly, can put systems in that compensate for lack of personal experience. And it’s good to have a system that doesn’t depend on individual personalities or experience. After 9-11 the National Incident Management System was integrated throughout the nation’s emergency services. And locally, each group’s emergency action plan is much more comprehensive than what we had before. We annually revise the Park Board’s Emergency Action Plan, and I intentionally try to think of how it could be improved so that it doesn’t rely on any one person’s experience.

We still have a ways to go until we get through storm season, so don’t get complacent. In lifeguard training we talk a lot about eliminating variables that can mess you up during a rescue. We practice them to the point where your body remembers even if your brain doesn’t. If you practice and internalize all the things you can control in advance, you are better able to handle the inevitable wrinkles that arise. This applies to systems as well as individuals. It works for hurricanes and manmade disasters.  It works for officials and emergency response teams.

And it works for you and your family as well.

Non Compliance Strategies

“Good Morning. Sir, do you mind removing your vehicle from the beachfront and parking it in the parking lot?”

“Why?”

“Cars aren’t allowed on the beachfront in this area for safety reasons.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“There’s a sign at the entrance you drove through that says no vehicles allowed past this point. There is also a law that says vehicles aren’t allowed to drive on this part of the beach.”

“Well, I’m not driving on the beach, I’m just dropping my stuff off.”

Late in the summer it seems that people just get frayed. There are more complaints, arguments, fights, and weird things happening than earlier in the season. It’s like the veneer of civility gets burned away by the heat and sun, and all the raw emotions people usually have tamped down come boiling to the surface. And it seems like this year all the stress of covid, economy, politics, etc. exacerbated it.

For those who work the beach it can be a challenge, but if you get in the right head space it can be wildly entertaining. I especially like it when people seem to feel that they have their own little bubble of rules that differ from everyone else. The moon follows me as well, so totally get it.

“Excuse me sir, do you mind putting your dog on a leash?”

“Why?”

“Galveston has a city ordinance requiring dogs to wear leashes. Also, there have been instances where dogs have been off a leash and…..” (you get the idea)

Then the conversation goes into a whole list of reasons for not needing to use a leash that all generally have the same theme- in my case there should be an exemption from the rules. Some of the best ones are:

“He’s really friendly”, “She just likes chasing birds and hardly ever bites anyone”, “I have him for comfort”, or (my personal all-time favorite), “My dog is on a verbal leash”.

The other common technique that can be interesting is the “stall technique”. We open with something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m sorry but you can’t use a tent or tarp in this area. You can, however, use it on the other side of those blue poles” And from there it goes a little something like this:

“What?”

“Can you please move your tarp to the other side of those blue poles?”

“I have to move my tarp?”

“Yes”

“Where?”

“To the other side of the blue poles on the side that is designated by signs”

“So…. I can’t have my tarp here?”

It may cycle a few times like that. Then they realize that even if they keep asking the response is the same. At that point they might move it. Or, if you’re lucky, they might go into the previous technique and point out that they need shade in that area more than other people because…

I will say I’m so impressed with my staff, CERT, park staff, and other first responder groups for all their patience, and understanding that 99% of people are really nice to deal with.

Labor Day Advice

A big part of what makes America such an incredible place is all the work of the American labor movement and the work and contributions of so many laborers to the development and achievements of our country. Many Americans have a tradition of celebrating the special holiday that honors that by spending time with loved ones at the beach.

With Labor Day upon us, we’re expecting several hundred thousand people to be on the island this weekend. Fortunately we have a lot of help from other groups. The Coastal Zone Management team has cleared paths to the water at the San Luis Pass and at the beach parks to allow for first responders to access the beachfront. Our partners in the Galveston Marine Response have trained and prepared and are staffing extra help. The County Emergency Response Teams (C.E.R.T.) will provide valuable support at the San Luis Pass and Boddecker drive to augment our lifeguard patrol keeping people from entering those dangerous tidal areas. And, of course, our dedicated group of “Wave Watchers” will provide an extra layer of surveillance, help with lost children, and be there in many other ways.

All of us get in a different mindset when we’re away from our routine and when we do something fun. We throw caution to the wind and immerse ourselves in the sea and sand and fun. This is good to a point- and that point is the shoreline. Water is not our natural environment. Things can go wrong quickly in the water so it only takes a momentary lapse of judgment, or seconds of inattention, for things to break bad.

Taking a moment to observe your surroundings and think about potential risks at the beach or any other body of water does a lot. Asking someone who is knowledgeable, like a lifeguard, what to watch for before getting wet means that you greatly reduce your chances of an accident.

You also want to remember the basics like not swimming alone, designating a “Water Watcher”, observing signs and flags, feet first first time, alcohol and water don’t mix, non-swimmers and children should wear properly fitted lifejackets, and take precautions for the heat and sun. At the beach, it’s very important to avoid swimming in areas where rip currents are likely, like near piers and jetties. These are protected by lifeguards and clearly marked with bilingual, iconic signage. Also avoid areas with strong tides like the ends of the island. Both the San Luis Pass and Boddecker Drive areas are illegal to swim in.

Choose to swim in areas protected by lifeguards. In beaches guarded by United States Lifesaving Association agencies, like Galveston, your chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million. In fact the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is certified as an “Advanced” agency.

But above all, YOU are responsible for the safety of both yourself and your family. Lifeguards provide an extra layer of protection in case your safety net lapses temporarily.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend. You deserve it.

Interrelated Systems

More and more I appreciate all the people that collaborate to make miracles happen in our beachfront spheres.

Last Saturday the annual American Institute of Architects (AIA) Sandcastle Competition went about as well as anything could go during an event of 11,000 people and 3,700 parked cars on one beach. The logistics supporting all the Architectural Firms’ teams building those incredible sculptures was an impressive feat. My role was on the organizational and security side, but it was a true “incident command system” with teams handling parking, trash, supplies, accounting, and medical response. As you’d imagine, it’s a ridiculous amount of work with a zillion moving parts. But when each subunit “digs in” and supports the others and the greater goal, it’s a rush to be part of. I’m impressed with the AIA volunteers, Park Board, and Houston Precinct 1 CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), all of whom labored over 12 hours in the heat to make it work. I have to say, after being involved in this event for over 20 years, this is the smoothest its run. We still can improve on a few things, but Park Board Park staff, Galveston Police Department managed security, AIA, CERT, Beach Patrol, and others all knocked it out of the park!

The next day was another collaborative effort of an entirely different type. The second drowning fatality of the year on the island, and again at the unforgiving San Luis Pass, occurred after 7pm on the north side of the pass in the wetland area. A 3-year-old girl on a float perilously drifted into the bay. Fortunately, our San Luis Pass Patrol crew was able to quickly rescue her using a jet ski, but her father perished in the unpredictable deep and treacherous waters while attempting to save her. With practiced professionalism the Galveston Marine Response (Beach Patrol, Police, Fire, and Jamaica Beach Fire) and the U.S. Coast Guard mounted a comprehensive search. The following day, Galveston County CERT joined local responders and deployed drones in an exhaustive search, following up again the next day with 3 drone crews. Meanwhile, the Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support Network assisted the family with critical information, counselling, and the additional support needed to navigate the first stage of this tragedy. Media outlets were respectful and continued to help push the message out to avoid swimming at either end of the island because of severe and dangerous tidal currents.

These are just two examples of how complicated the response can be to the many happenings on the beach. And behind the scenes, all the complex systems and relationships at both the City of Galveston and Park Board of Trustees provide us with the resources we need to serve residents and visitors. With that support and the incredible partnerships and systems we’ve developed through the years, we are able to accomplish so much more as an interrelated system than we could as individual entities. I’m thankful that we all work together to save lives.

Competition Results

From Supervisor Jeff Mullin, Team Captain for the team that recently competed in the United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Competition, to staff of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol:

“Good afternoon, folks! Team Galveston is back from USLA Nationals and boy did the squad bring back some serious hardware and results!

To start, our very own Jacqueline Emmert got 4th overall in age group points (all ages combined outside of open events) and brought back a gold in the surf swim and 2k, silver in run swim run, international ironwomen (run-swim-board paddle-surf ski) and surf ski, and bronze medals in beach flags and board race. Way to show up and show out Jacque! Especially at your second Nationals appearance!

Next up with medal performances was Chief Davis, as usual coming back with hardware including bronze medals in his age group for American Ironman (run-swim-board paddle-surf boat row) and surf ski, and top 5 finishes in board race, run swim run, and international iron man, and barely missing out on making the open finals for surf ski by literally a foot and a half.

The landline team of Jacque Emmert, Jeff Mullin, Charlotte Blacketer, and Caleb Tiffin missed semi-finals by a mere few seconds.

Tiffin came to continue his winning beach flags performance in a stacked field of speedsters to make it to semi-finals in beach flags. Blacketer, even with an ankle injury, managed to get one spot away from making the finals in the pit! She even had the baton in her hand for a microsecond before it got snatched away!

Not to be forgotten, Mac Livanec and Axle Denner were one spot away from making the semi-finals in the open board rescue, with Livanec also making the semi-finals in the open surf ski.

Finally, with a combined team for the open women’s Taplin relay that consisted of Emmert from Galveston, Padre Beach Rescue, Monmouth County, and Virginia Beach, we were able to place for points which moved us up to tie with Hollywood Beach (Florida) and beat out Capitola Beach Lifeguard Association (California) and take 14th place out of 27 teams, many of whom had scores of competitors.

Our junior guards also had a great showing with Brendon Lusk placing 5th and Landon Morris scoring 7th in Beach Flags, Maddy Scott getting a 4th in the 2k and 8th in the Iron Guard, and Ryan Pryor with a 4th place finish in the swim relay. Not to mention 3 more top ten finishes in beach flags and iron guard!

Congrats everyone and “good on yas”. It was a fun one! Everyone come on out next year to Sunday comps so we can send an even better and faster team to Virginia Beach for Nationals 2023!”

In a profession where every rescue is a race, and every guard is an athlete, competition is our primary tool for maintaining the high levels of fitness required. I’m proud of both the competition team and the guards who trained and competed all summer to be rescue ready.

 

National Championships

The early morning light glimmered across the water, bathing the line of figures in a coppery glow. Each of them carried a narrow, sleek racing board under their arm. They were coiled and vibrating, until the whistle blew. In a blur, they exploded as they raced out into the water. First, they high stepped until they were in deeper water then they hopped on the boards either prone or on their knees. Waves knocked a few back, but the front pack shot through the surf line in a tight clump and headed out to a line of flags and buoys.

The leader sliced through the water with the others drafting in his wake. They jockeyed for position as they neared the first turn, knowing even a small error would be critical at this point. Only a few would advance to the next round.

One of the competitors who was towards the middle of the front pack nabbed a nice wave on the outside, joined shortly after by a clump of others. Having been able to rest on the wave, he jumped up in knee deep water and sprinted in through a funnel finish.

Welcome to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) national lifeguard championships. This year Hermosa Beach, California will host several hundred competitors and their support crews on August 10th-13th. The best of the best ocean lifeguards and junior lifeguards in the country will compete in a multitude of Lifesaving Sport events which simulate the skills needed to rescue people in trouble.

More than any other of the emergency services, ocean lifeguards rely very heavily on their skill and fitness in the water to effect rescues. All the inter and intra agency competitions lead to regional competitions and eventually the best duke it out at the “Nationals”. Competition is the key motivator for thousands of beach lifeguards to maintain the incredibly high levels of physical fitness required to do the job. This is critical in a profession where every lifeguard is an athlete, and every rescue is potentially a race against time.

Los Angeles County takes the championships almost every year. Their depth of field ensures a pipeline of great athletes, and the percentage of year-round professional lifeguards brings a lot of master’s level competitors to the event. When the event is held is LA County it gets really competitive. Additionally, the colder water and larger surf can be a challenge for Junior Guards and less experienced athletes from Florida, Texas, and much of the East Coast. Hard to train in 88-degree water and compete in 65 degrees! But both our guard and junior guard teams have been training really hard and you shouldn’t underestimate Texas spirit!

4th Wrap Up

The early morning yellow light angled sideways highlighting a young mother and her two young children giggling and laying in the shallows. A lifeguard raced across the slippery rocks as another dove into the water, both racing to stop a group of teens from getting sucked out by a rip current. A jacked-up pickup spun in the sand and slammed on the brakes, ex-military crew leapt out and almost jumped on an umbrella beach service worker before we diffused it. An older couple sat in the midst of the crowd, leaning into each other with the comfort of life partnership, and watched everyone playing in the sand and sea around them. A tiny girl sobbed as the lifeguard that found her wandering down the beach handed her gently to her mother. Rescuers from 5 different agencies resorted, in the dark, to coordinating the search for a small child that was reported as a drowning on foot during the drone show because the dense crowd made it impossible to get the rescue trucks down on the sand. The sun set as Beach Patrol trucks, with overhead lights flashing, removed every last person from the 9 mile stretch of guarded water before leaving for the day. A group of guards sitting in the tower after work finally relaxed and watched the drone show, while joking with the easy comradery that sharing a tough, fulfilling job together brings.

I once spent a week or so in Calcutta. I walked in long loops. Miles each day. At night I lay in bed looking up at a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and tried to process everything I’d seen. So much life, so many stories, caught in glimpses. I told my brother that there was so much stimulation, and so much I didn’t understand, that I was probably only absorbing 15 percent of what my eyes actually saw. This last weekend was like that. Slow to fast, easy contentment to nail biting stress, and the press of so many radio channels chattering, so many people, so many stories and lives all around for hours and hours each day. I was so impressed with how our lifeguard and dispatch crew kept focused and how they tirelessly powered through.

This was the busiest 4th of July we’ve seen in a long while. Not only were the crowds thick, but until Monday we had some pretty rough water and strong rip currents. We reunited 25 lost kids, effected 101 enforcement actions, 38 medical responses, and made 4 rescues. The 46,025 people moved from danger alone equaled 1/6 of our traditional annual average.

There are no words to express the pride and gratitude I feel for my dispatch and lifeguard staff and our partners with the Galveston County and Houston Precinct 1 CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams), our GPD managed security detail, park staff, Wave Watchers, Survivor Support Network, and Coastal Zone Management. Also, can’t thank Police, Fire, and EMS enough for the extraordinary work they did over the weekend!

HAPPY HOLIDAY!

REMINDER:

  • Always swim near a lifeguard:
    • Lifeguards work continually to identify hazards that might affect you. They can advise you on the safest place to swim, as well as places to avoid. They receive many hours of continuous training and most have been with Galveston Island Beach Patrol for several years.  They want you to have a safe day. Talk to them when you first arrive at the beach and ask them for their advice.
  • Stay Away from Rocks!
    • Rocks present special hazards to swimmers. Piers and Jetties act as the perfect environment for the formation of Rip Currents, which are the number one cause of open water drownings worldwide. For more information on Rip Currents, visit our informational page
  • Four Legged Fur Babies:
    • Sand has been really hot lately.  Be passionate about your pets paws.

More information:

Sand Bars, Troughs, and Holes

Hidden deep spots in the surf are hazardous, especially for small children. Waves are powerful and dig holes in the bottom near shore that may be several yards wide. They can form at any water depth, so you may step into one while wading in very shallow water.

When you visit the beach, you may see swimmers standing in waist-seep water far offshore. What you don’t see is how deep the water is between the beach and the sand bar area they are on.

The natural processes of the Gulf create a series of bars and troughs in the nearshore areas of coastal Texas. The height of the bar and the depth of the trough vary, but the water in the trough is sometimes “over your head”. Unless you swim very well, do not try to reach the sand bar offshore.

Effects of Heat & Sun

Protect yourself against sunburn. You can become sunburned even on cloudy or overcasts days.

Ultraviolet rays are harmful to the skin, regardless of the color of that skin. You should wear a high SPF sunscreen (15 or higher); wear loose fitting light colored clothing, hat & sunglasses. Also, drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine free liquid to prevent dehydration.

Piers and Jetties

The Texas coastline is lined with fishing piers and rock jetties. These present special hazards to swimmers. Barnacles and other sea life tend to make these structures their homes, increasing the possibility for stings, bites, and cuts when swimmers get near them. Piers and Jetties also act as the perfect environment for the formation of Rip Currents, which are the number one cause of open water drownings worldwide. For more information on Rip Currents, visit our ‘informational page’.

Stings, Bites, and Cuts

Stinging jellyfish abound the Gulf waters and randomly sting whatever they touch. The most dangerous stinging jelly is the Portuguese man-o-war, a community of animals called zooids. This most obvious zooid is a purple float with its tentacles dangling in the water. Lifting the tentacle from the skin and dousing the area with a saline solution brings relief. Do not rub the area with sand – this will only ensure that all the stinging cells fire. And remember just because the man-o-war or jellyfish is washed up on the beach does not mean that you are safe. The tentacles can still sting. Avoid stomping them or smacking them with a stick.

Stingrays frequent shallow Gulf waters and can thrust a sharp shaft into an offending foot or ankle when stepped on. This shaft, located at the base of the stingray’s tail must be handled carefully, usually surgically, because the spines point backward and prevent easy removal. One good preventive action is to shuffle your feet while wading. When disturbed, the stingray will move away.

Swimmers, particularly children are advised to wear some type of footwear when in the Gulf or on the beach. Broken glass and sharp shell remnants are everywhere, and children often fail to watch where they are going. Remember there is a high concentration of bacteria on objects in the water and near the beach. Clean even minor wounds well and monitor for signs of infection.

Currents

For any body of open water, currents will always be a danger, presenting a hazard not found in swimming pools or waterparks.

The Long Shore Current (also known as the Littoral Current)’s strength and direction are generally determined by wave and wind energy. Look for the Long Shore Current by the angle of the waves coming into shore, by the foam, swimmers and surfers flowing parallel to shore with the Long Shore Current. Always be aware of your surroundings and your position in the water relative to your location on the beach. The Long Shore Current can push swimmers far down the beach, and towards hazards such as piers and rock jetties.

The Long Shore Current can also influence and help create Rip Currents, which present a very deadly danger to swimmers. Be sure to avoid swimming or wading near rock jetties and piers, as Rip Currents often form next to them.  See our ‘Rip Currents’ page for more information.

Always adhere to warning signs.

4th of July Tips

We’re here! The big Fourth of July weekend. It’s hard to believe how fast summer flies, especially when it’s as busy as it is here in Galveston. This summer has already been intense with tons of people and very rough water. The storm system is clearing out just in time for a gorgeous weekend. The one thing we’re preparing for is the potential for wind, waves, and rip currents. If you compound that with all the normal issues big crowds bring, we could see a very busy weekend. Adding to that, there will be fireworks at Moody Gardens, the Seawall Parade, and the all-new futuristic drone show. www.Visitgalveston.com  has all the dates and details.

For the big weekend, there are a few simple safety tips that can keep you and yours safe. Of course, swimming near a lifeguard and avoiding rip currents are the big ones. Rips in Texas predominantly occur near a structure like a jetty or pier. They create holes or trenches underwater. Although they don’t pull you under, they do pull you out and can cause exhaustion, panic, and drowning fatalities. Obey all warning signs and instructions from a lifeguard to be safe. Also, pick a stationary point as a reference, so you don’t accidently drift into a problem area. If accidently caught in a current, stay calm, float, and go with the flow. Call or wave for help if possible. If you’re a good swimmer, try swimming parallel to shore until out of the current, and then back to the sand. If you see someone in a rip, don’t go in after them. Instead throw a floating object or line to them, like the ring buoys in the rescue boxes on each jetty.

Be sure and swim near a lifeguard. Ours are amazing, and while you are responsible for your own safety, they can provide an added layer of safety. They can also help with first aids, lost kids or virtually any type of beach emergency. It also helps to swim with a buddy, obey warning signs and flags, designate a “Water Watcher”, and avoid diving in headfirst. A huge thing to remember is not to enter the water at either end of the island. The Ship Channel and the San Luis Pass have dangerous tidal currents and it’s illegal to swim there. Also, don’t forget to wear that lifejacket if you’re boating or are either a non-swimmer or a child.

It’s been hot! Hydrate with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages, wear protective clothing, use sunscreen with a high SPF, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Speaking of protecting your eyes, it’s a good idea to steer clear from shooting off your own fireworks. Beside the fact that it’s against the law, they mess up the beach, are a major fire hazard, and can cause problems for wildlife.

Above all, know your limits and don’t check your brain at the causeway. Enjoy your vacation on our beautiful island and have fun!

Sicilio Adventures

Supervisor Matt Sicilio was patrolling the stretch between Stewart and East Beach last weekend when he was dispatched to check on a woman with burns on her feet. When he arrived, he realized that she had serious burns on her foot soles because her shoes had come off in the middle of some deep, dry sunbeaten sand on her way to the moist, cooler sand. This heatwave and sun rays are no joke. We’ve been called to several heat exhaustion cases and a couple of burned feet situations in the past week alone. And this is June!

Burns to extremities can be a big deal, so she needed to go to the hospital. Normally this would be a pretty straightforward thing, but its easy for things to get complicated on the beach. Because of the dry, fluffy sand, much of the beach is inaccessible unless you have 4WD, and even then, you have to know how to drive in these conditions. That means no EMS or Fire can come to the scene, so Matt had to coordinate with EMS with an improvised plan. They walked through a hotel lobby out to the beach and met him. Then together they packaged her and drove her in the back of the lifeguard truck a mile down the beach and around to the parking lot of the hotel to load her in the ambulance.

Matt has been a supervisor for a fairly short time, and he’s already shown that he’s a natural fit who can figure out how to improvise and adapt to most situations. In fact, later the same day he was tested again.

Another call came in that afternoon about a stranded jet ski on the west end. The craft was so far offshore that it was impossible to spot. Fortunately, the operator had a fully charged cell. Matt and his partner were able to talk with them directly and told them how to pull their GPS coordinates off the phone. Then Matt was able to plug them into an app he has on his phone and navigate over 5 miles from shore to locate them where they were tied off to an offshore platform. The two men were making the most of “their time at sea” fishing while waiting for help to arrive. The US Coast Guard ended bringing the two men aboard and towing the jet ski all the way to the Coast Guard base some 20 miles away. All told, Matt and his partner were out of their patrol zone for a little over two hours. This is a lot for us on a busy weekend, as it leaves coverage thin, but before cell phones the same thing could have taken hours or even days. Technology definitely saves lives.

Many of these potentially serious emergencies can be avoided by basic preparation. Having the right gear, making a plan, and making sure you have shared your intentions can make a huge difference in getting home safe.