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The NSRI’s innovative camera project, which was launched last year, is proving to be an invaluable asset.

Never satisfied with the status quo, Drowning Prevention Manager Andrew Ingram and his team are always looking for new ways to keep people safe.

“The idea for the beach cameras came about when I bumped into one of our NSRI volunteers who runs security cameras,” Andrew recalls. “He showed me one of the areas the cameras were monitoring, and I thought, imagine if we could work with a community, for example a body corporate with a large block of flats and use cameras to monitor a large beach area. Being on a beach level versus an elevated position is vastly different. Spotting something like a rip current is much easier from a higher angle than it is from a beach.”

“Looking at beach safety, like anything else, you need to have more than one arrow in your quiver. Lifeguards are absolutely your best first line of defense. There’s nothing quite like people who understand the beach well interacting with beachgoers and, of course, the flags that they put up are absolutely critical. However, when it gets very busy the lifeguards’ focus is and always must be between the flags and perhaps a couple of 100 metres on either side of them.”

The first camera was put up in Strand a year ago, followed more recently by one that monitors the beach in Bloubergstrand in Cape Town. Both beaches are notoriously dangerous. For the Strand project, Andrew got in touch with the body corporate of a 12-storey block of flats and they agreed to place a camera on top of their building.

“By that stage we had put the idea out to tender and it was won by an active, sea-going NSRI volunteer. That was amazing because not only is he an expert in the technical side of these cameras, but he also understands rescue. So using his expertise and the experience of our team, as well as working with the Strand lifeguards and the City of Cape Town drowning prevention team, we put together eight different zones on Strand beach that would be monitored by the camera. It automatically works through these eight different zones and spends about 40 seconds on each of them,” Andrew enthuses.

Beach camera project

Two screens are located at the NSRI’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), one monitoring Strand and one monitoring Blouberg. The cameras can also be manually overridden so that if the EOC operator wants to interrogate something, they can manually take over and zoom in on what they see. They can then decide whether a prevention or rescue operation is needed.

“There was one incident where our operator saw a child getting into a rip current, alerted the lifeguards and got the child out of the rip current in under three minutes,” Andrew says.

In Blouberg, a camera has been set up on top of a 16-storey block of flats above an area where the City of Cape Town has set up a mobile lifeguarding station. In the past there haven’t been lifeguards there. Andrew explains that the logic behind this was that if people saw lifeguards, they would think it was a swimming beach.

“This thinking has changed, so the City now has lifeguards there but they don’t put flags up. Those lifeguards are on patrol and are there to prevent people getting into difficulty and to help those who do. They also advise people on why they shouldn’t swim there and where they should go to swim. Together with the City of Cape Town lifeguards, Big Bay lifeguards and the NSRI, we are able to make that beach a whole lot safer!”

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