The arrival of Rip Current Awareness Week on June 3, 2012 will help remind people that rip currents are potentially one of the deadliest natural phenomena. However, they tend to receive far less publicity than other natural hazards because our understanding of them is still somewhat limited. This summer, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (NJSGC) hopes to help change that by utilizing mobile device technology to collect and distribute up-to-the-minute rip current data and related information.
Under the supervision of senior design instructor Professor David Klappholz, Stevens Institute of Technology Computer Science design course seniors Christopher Seeley, Ralph Mattiaccio, Ken Bodzak, Will Abeel and Danielle Maginnis have developed a smartphone app for multiple platforms to assist lifeguards with identifying and cataloguing rip current occurrences on their own beaches, while giving them a glimpse at what neighboring communities are experiencing in real time. Developed at the request of NJSGC’s Coastal Processes Specialist and Stevens Professor Dr. Jon Miller, the app could prove invaluable to both local lifeguards and the National Weather Service (NWS).
The NWS plans to use the collected information to evaluate its own rip current forecasts and the information will also help refine current understanding about when and where rip currents occur and under what conditions they are most prevalent.
The concept is fairly straightforward. A lifeguard with a smartphone in a participating community would walk the beach (or drive an ATV, etc.) and stop when a rip current is identified. Using the app, some basic information about the rip current would be entered (approximate size, strength, adjacent to a structure, etc), and the location is recorded using the phone’s built-in GPS. Lifeguards can also use the app or the web interface to keep track of rescues via a free-form description field. An additional web interface will also enable lifeguards to view all of the reports from the previous 24 hrs in either a list or map form. The map form utilizes Google Maps and displays some basic information about the rip current. All of the information is displayed in real-time so that guards know what’s happening in adjacent communities. The website will be optimized for display on a mobile device so the information can be viewed on the same platform on which it’s entered.
A demo of some of the capabilities of the system has already proven successful. Currently, the mobile-optimized website allows authenticated users (lifeguards) to enter basic information about the identified rip current. The application then populates a database with the entered information as well as relevant related data drawn from NOAA databases regarding the waves and tides at the time of the report. All of this is happens in real time and is searchable by other lifeguards, the NWS and the research community.
Miller hopes to get the project piloted in one or two shore towns early this summer. For more information contact Jon Miller at jmiller(at)stevens(dot)edu or David Klappholz at aklappo(at)stevens(dot)edu or davidk6(at)gmail(dot)com.
The New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium is an affiliation of colleges, universities and other groups dedicated to advancing knowledge and stewardship of New Jersey’s marine and coastal environment. NJSGC meets its mission through its innovative research, education and outreach programs. For more information about NJSGC, visit njseagrant.org.