Public safety is something the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) takes very seriously. From the project level up to headquarters, the Corps is constantly thinking of ways to better provide a friendly and safe experience for our visitors. The success of these innovative public safety campaigns and strategies can be seen in the reduction in fatalities on Corps projects in the past 40 years but, unfortunately, the number of fatalities has leveled off to an average of 164 per year for the past 14 years.
To reach this remaining demographic, Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, Corps deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, developed the Public Fatality Reduction Initiative. This goal is to decrease water recreation fatalities by 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2014.
Since almost 90 percent of all drowning fatalities occur when a person is not wearing a life jacket, one major focus of this initiative is expanding and improving the Corps’ Life Jacket Loaner Program. This program allows projects to allocate funding toward construction and maintenance of “life jacket loaner stations” where the public can borrow life jackets, free of charge, to use for the day.
With the help of local partners and a little ingenuity, two District lake and reservoir facilities had life jacket loaner stations installed up to a decade ago. Pioneered by retired Park Ranger Jeanne Newton, Ice Harbor Lock and Dam installed its first station in 2003, and Dworshak followed in 2007. As of this summer, all District projects plan to have their own local loaner programs.
As the ground thaws and the recreation season approaches, the remaining life jacket loaner stations are being placed in their new homes along swim beaches and boat ramps throughout the District. However, these stations alone will not achieve our goal; a 50 percent reduction in recreation fatalities will take all of us getting the water safety message out.. Urge others to wear a life jacket, watch out for others during water safety patrols, help young people think about water safety during Bobber the Water Safety Dog outreach. In true USACE spirit, “Essayons!”