To increase beach safety awareness as millions of visitors travel to Walton County to enjoy the beautiful beaches, Walton County Board of County Commissioners have declared May 18 – 25, 2009, as Beach Safety Week for Walton County. Beach safety education is critical since the majority of visitors are unfamiliar with the flag warning system.
The South Walton Fire District (SWFD), the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), and the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) are working together to
ensure visitors and residents have a safe and enjoyable experience at the beach. As the TDC focuses heavily on reaching beach goers through public relations and marketing, the WCSO beach patrol deputies and the SWFD lifeguards reach beach goers once they are on the beach.
During beach safety awareness week, there is an enhanced focus on the importance of abiding by the flag warning system and the dangers associated with rip currents.
When a red flag is flying, knee deep is too deep, as dangerous rip currents can form at anytime if there is a break in the sandbar. Swimming in groups, supervising children, refraining from alcohol consumption before swimming, and obeying the flag warning system and the direction of lifeguards are a few of the many ways beach patrons can ensure a safe experience at the beach. If a double red flag is flying, the water is closed for swimming.
“Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer beach season means thousands of school children, residents and visitors will head to our beautiful beaches every day,” said Sean Hughes, deputy chief, SWFD. “I would like to remind everyone to swim near a lifeguard, or where no lifeguard is on duty, swim with a buddy. Despite all of the beauty, the conditions of our beaches and the Gulf of Mexico are different every day, and may have some potential hazards that can be avoided if you heed the advice of lifeguards and the flag warning system.”
Lifeguards are currently stationed at eight regional beach accesses in Beaches of South Walton, which are designated by parking facilities and restrooms. From 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., lifeguards will be present at Inlet Beach, Santa Clara, Van Ness Butler, Jr., Blue Mountain, Gulf View Heights, Ed Walline, Dune Allen and Miramar Beach regional beach accesses.
Lifeguards will be positioned on these beaches in addition to four roving patrols through September 30.
With rougher surf conditions, lifeguards in Beaches of South Walton have had direct contact with more beach goers to inform them of the flag warning system and have taken more preventative actions to keep those enjoying the beach out of harms way than in years past. With the strong focus on education and prevention, the SWFD attempts to reach as many beach goers as possible on yellow and red flag days. In keeping the focus on education, prevention and awareness the SWFD Beach Safety Division will be conducting a lifeguard demonstration for local Boy Scout troops and anyone else interested in attending. The demonstration will be held Monday May 18, 2009 at 6:30pm at Ed Walline Beach access.
“We hope that the community will join us in our efforts to inform beachgoers of the importance of abiding to the flag warning system,” said Tracy Louthain, TDC’s director of public relations and visitor services. “As more community individuals come together, the more visitors we are able to reach with the beach safety message, ensuring Beaches of South Walton remains safe.”
Through the Beaches of South Walton Visitor Services Centers, located at the corner of U.S. Hwy 98 and U.S. Hwy 331 South and at Grand Park in Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, free beach kits are available through September. For more information on beach safety, visit www.seemoresafetycrab.com.