By Lee Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 19, 2012) – More than 32 million people visited 10 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District lakes during the 2011 recreation season. Sadly, 19 of them either drown or suffered fatal accidents and never returned home.
The common denominator among the victims is all but one of them did not wear a life jacket when their lives ended prematurely. In the wake of tragedy, the Corps continues with its efforts to get lake goers to just “Wear It.”
At the beginning of the 2012 recreation season, Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commander, stressed the importance of reaching a headquarters goal of reducing water-related fatalities by 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2014.
Under the general’s direction, Nashville District leaders renewed their efforts to communicate water safety messages and educate the public. They used online social media tools, press releases, public service announcements, boat and foot patrols, school visits, and they collaborated with interested local, state and federal agencies.
Entering the 2012 Labor Day weekend, Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, Nashville District commander, wrote a commentary published on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System. He indicated that there have been only eight fatalities so far in 2012, which are 10 less than the same time a year ago. This is believed to be in part because of collaborative outreach efforts to inform visitors and the general public about the importance of water safety, he said.
“While we cannot control the individual actions of our 33 million annual visitors, we are doing everything we can to help them make wise, but easy choices that can save their lives when recreating on Corps lakes,” DeLapp said.
The smartest thing boaters and swimmers can do to increase the chances of survival in the water is to wear a life jacket, said Carolyn Bauer, Nashville District natural resource specialist, in an article published in The City Paper in May 2012.
Bauer said boaters should wear life jackets, avoid alcohol, and remember that the sun, wind, noise and vibration can affect a person’s judgment while underway.
On shore, she recommends watching and keeping children very close, and stresses the importance of ensuring they all wear life jackets. The Corps even has life jacket loaner boards at its recreation areas visitors can use, she said.
“We’ve already had a close call with a little girl found by some other swimmers under the water, which is murky,” Bauer said. “Children younger than 5 should be within arms reach. Children older than that – parents should be watching them and not texting on the phone.”
At the lakes park rangers are working every day of the week during the recreation season to maintain a presence out on the lake. They are patrolling, observing and educating in hopes of reducing unsafe acts, and ultimately fatalities.
“Despite the fact that we hosted 32,499,829 visitors between October 2010 and September 2011, even one death at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake is too many in my view,” said DeLapp in an earlier commentary published on the DVIDS site in May 2012.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning. Nearly 80 percent of drowning victims are male and a “lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, taking risks, failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use, and seizure disorders are the main contributors,” according to the CDC.