Perception of the rip current hazard on Galveston Island and Padre Island

2012-2014 - $137,125

Dr. Chris Houser and Dr. Christian Brannstrom
Department of Geography, Texas A&M University,
810 O&M Building, Department of Geography,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-3147, U.S.A


The purpose of this study is to analyze public perceptions of the rip current hazard on Galveston and South Padre Islands and to identify appropriate programs to improve the ability of beach users to identify rip currents.  Drowning is a major public health problem (Short and Hogan, 1994) that can have substantial social and economic impact in the State of Texas. Between 1999 and 2004, there were 126 drownings on Galveston Island alone (Galveston County Health District, 2004), with most incidents occurring at a limited number of sites (San Luis Pass, East Beach and Stewart Beach) and rip currents identified as the primary cause. It is hypothesized that the number of drowning and rescues on a given day and over the course of a year, reflects the juxtaposition of heavy surf and rip current development with the personal and group behavior (including population, location, time in water, etc.) of those using the beach (Figure 1).  Personal and group behavior and the hazard posed by a rip current depends in part on the ability of beach users to be able to identify a rip current and to associate surf conditions with the potential for rip current development.  Understanding what features beach users associated with rip currents is an important step in the development of appropriate programs and educational materials aimed at improving the ability of beach users to identify conditions commonly associated with rip current development.   With the notable exception of a preliminary study conducted by the PI (Caldwell et al, in prep.) and a recent study by Sherkeret al. (2010), little is known if beach users are able to translate existing rip current warning signs and education material into real-world features and states that they can identify before entering the water.  To date, no one has determined if the rip current signs (or any other education materials in this area) have been effective in educating beach users about the rip current hazard and in reducing the number of rip current related incidents (C. Brewster, USLA, pers. Comm., 2011).