EDITORIAL: Help inform public about surf danger
Jan 05, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The waves of Hawaii are popular with residents and alluring to visitors who may not appreciate the dangers of the high surf, and new warnings have been posted online. The challenge is to connect surfer wannabes with the information before they head for Oahu's North Shore, the focus of the new effort.
The National Weather Service's Honolulu forecasters and city Ocean Safety officials have fortunately begun posting safety messages that accompany high surf advisories and warnings at the Hawaii Beach Safety website that have been available for some time.
The aim is to provide better understanding of the dangers of North Shore waves, and efforts should be made to make people aware of the online sites and the importance of reviewing warnings throughout the islands.
Drowning fatalities in the islands peaked at 77 in 2005 but have totaled more than 40 a year in the past decade, and nearly half of the victims have been residents, mostly in the ocean. The rate per population has been double the national average and second only to Alaska, where drownings often are from fishing accidents.
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of fatal injuries in Hawaii among visitors, who have been unaware of the ocean's danger. They are especially at risk in the winter, when wave heights can double unexpectedly in less than an hour.
Last weekend alone, lifeguards along Oahu's north and west shores made at least 17 rescues, 41 assists and more than 4,000 preventive actions as residents and tourists battled 30-foot waves. However, many drownings occur outside the watch of Honolulu's 200 professional lifeguards, who average about 1,500 rescues a year.
"While our lifeguards do everything within their power to protect beachgoers, there really is no substitute for folks understand- ing ocean hazards before they enter the water," Jim Howe, operations director for Oahu Ocean Safety, told the Star-Advertiser's Gary T. Kubota.
Tourists who fly Hawaiian Airlines to the islands have been shown videos acquainting them with warnings of high and dangerous surfs. Other carriers should be urged to display the videos. The city, or the tourism industry, should provide literature for distribution in hotel rooms about the Internet sites and the importance for visitors to view them.
While the current effort is aimed at the North Shore, an injury prevention committee under the state Department of Health recommended in August the establishment of a task force to develop a statewide approach to drowning prevention. Too often, the committee pointed out, Hawaii guidebooks "direct visitors who are less familiar with ocean swimming and conditions to unguarded locations without explaining the potential dangers."
The state should educate writers and guidebook publishers about drownings and urge them to include accurate information about safety conditions. And it should take the lead on spreading the word to residents and tourists alike through websites about which beaches are relatively safe and which are not, and why.
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