Re­search­ing rip cur­rents

Alexan­dra Sca­man dis­tribut­ing on­line sur­vey to Is­landers about this po­ten­tially deadly haz­ard

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MITCH MAC­DON­ALD

A Univer­sity of Wind­sor stu­dent is work­ing to make Is­landers, and Cana­di­ans in gen­eral, safer on the beach.

Alexan­dra Sca­man, a fourth year stu­dent at the univer­sity, spent most of her sum­mers grow­ing up on P.E.I. with her fam­ily.

For the past year, Sca­man has been in­volved in a univer­sity project RipCuRe (Rip Cur­rent Un­der­grad­u­ate Re­search).

The project has been headed by sci­ence dean Chris Houser and has in­volved Sca­man dis­tribut­ing a sur­vey to col­lect data for her un­der­grad­u­ate the­sis con­cern­ing rip cur­rents on Cana­dian beaches.

She’s now reach­ing out to Is­landers to fill out the sur­vey and give their per­spec­tive with the hopes of ul­ti­mately in­creas­ing beach safety.

“Af­ter spend­ing my sum­mers here, we’ve all heard of rip cur­rents on the beaches or know some­body who got caught in a rip cur­rent,” said Sca­man, who is also work­ing on a mi­nor in me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“I’ve been look­ing at the most ef­fec­tive ways to warn peo­ple of a rip cur­rent haz­ard.”

Get­ting caught in a rip cur­rent can po­ten­tially be fa­tal.

Is­landers and tourists got a tragic re­minder of the po­ten­tial dan­gers this weekend, with a 52-year-old New Brunswick man drown­ing near St. Mar­garets.

Sca­man said while P.E.I. life­guards do an ex­cel­lent job of keep­ing swim­mers safe, there is sim­ply too much beach and coastal area for the whole prov­ince to be cov­ered.

In­stead, Sca­man is hop­ing to find the most ef­fec­tive way of warn­ing in­di­vid­u­als of rip cur­rents.

“Not ev­ery­one re­sponds to a warn­ing in the same way. For ex­am­ple, things like your age, your gen­der and even the pre­vi­ous amount of rip cur­rent knowl­edge you had prior to go­ing to the beach will af­fect how you in­ter­pret a rip cur­rent warn­ing,” she said. “Be­cause of this, not ev­ery­one is equally sus­cep­ti­ble of be­ing caught in a rip cur­rent.”

For ex­am­ple, Sca­man said young males be­tween the ages of 18 and 24 years are the most likely to get caught. While her re­search re­sults are still pre­lim­i­nary, Sca­man said she has found younger age groups pre­fer re­ceiv­ing rip cur­rent warn­ings through so­cial me­dia or on weather site apps.

“I think in the age of tech­nol­ogy, warn­ings aren’t just lim­ited to flags or signs on a beach,” said Sca­man. “There’s so many new ways to dis­trib­ute in­for­ma­tion to peo­ple so it’s in­ter­est­ing to look at what is most ef­fec­tive.”

Sca­man said she has reached out to Hol­land Col­lege about dis­tribut­ing her sur­vey and that all Is­landers are in­vited to take part.

She also noted that her goal is not to scare in­di­vid­u­als from go­ing to the beach.

“I re­al­ize how spe­cial (the tourism in­dus­try) is to P.E.I. and they don’t want peo­ple be­ing scared of rip cur­rents on the beach,” said Sca­man. “At the same time, if you’re be­ing safe and know what to look for… it’s all about avoid­ance in the first place.”

MITCH MAC­DON­ALD/THE GUARDIAN

Univer­sity of Wind­sor stu­dent Alexan­dra Sca­man looks over her lap­top while in a coastal area of Char­lot­te­town this past weekend. Sca­man is cur­rently re­search­ing rip cur­rents for her un­der­grad­u­ate the­sis, with hopes of im­prov­ing the safety of beach-go­ers across Canada.

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