During the Baldwin County Commission work session this week, commissioners discussed a variety of options on how to address issues in Fort Morgan involving the rip current there.
The commission has been discussing since February various options involving messaging changes, placement of flags and the purchase of a lifesaving buoy that could be used to rescue people.
The agenda item for Tuesday’s discussion was the commission looking at the county helping to purchase a rescue device called the EMILY, or Emergency Intergrated Lifesaving Lanyard - a remote-controlled device which can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour and can carry a life jacket and helmet to distressed swimmers.
“If you have a person drowning, the fire department can deploy it from the beach,” Commissioner Skip Gruber said. “It can get to the swimmer in a matter of a few seconds. It also has speakers on it so that they can talk to the person. It’s a pretty spectacular little thing.”
Gruber said both the Navy and Coast Guard are currently using the EMILY and they’ve had “really good responses” with them.
The EMILY costs around $14,000 per unit.
The other commissioners seemed supportive of the EMILY purchase, but said rescue equipment wasn’t the only issue the county needed to take action on.
“I think response times would be an issue here,” Commissioner Chris Elliott said. “We need to look at the bigger picture as far as a warning system and letting people know about dangerous conditions before they even reach the beach or the water.”
Baldwin County Acting EMA Director Jessie Peacock told commissioners getting information to people is a key issue.
“Getting information out and educating people on the rip current is where we’re going to tackle this problem,” Peacock said. “Giving them information is the key to success.”
Peacock said there are currently 31 access points to the beach in Fort Morgan, which could make putting up signage to warn visitors and residents about water conditions somewhat problematic.
Elliott said he had been in talks with Congressman Bradley Byrne’s office about potentially using the National Weather Service’s warning system to push out text alerts about dangerous beach conditions to targeted cell phones within that area.
“That alert will be pushed to you, whether you’re from here or not,” Elliott said. “Everyone has a cell phone now, and it will help notify folks regardless of where they’re from.”
Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said he would prefer to use the county’s own app technology to push out information rather than using the NWS service.
“I would prefer that we get that our with our messaging information on our app instead of forcing it out to everyone south of Foley,” Dorsey said. “ I don’t like that idea.”
Dorsey said he hoped county staff and other officials could work together to find a solution that would provide more information and help prevent further loss of life.
“We’ve lost more people to rip current than we have to hurricanes or tornados,” Dorsey said. “It’s time for us to figure out a way to make this work.”