Increase in Great Lakes drownings prompt remote rescue demo

Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:23 PM EDT
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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WNDU) - Drowning can happen fast, and seconds matter when trying to save a life.

That’s why the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project was at South Beach in South Haven to demonstrate an unmanned water rescue device to local municipal officials.

Technologies like the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, or EMILY, have been used by U.S. Armed Forces for decades. It might soon be coming to nearby beach communities to help assist first responders and beachgoers alike if they are tasked with saving someone from drowning.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project or G.L.S.R.P., there have been 1,170 Great Lake drownings since 2010, with the most drownings occurring in Lake Michigan.

This enhanced floatation device is remote-controlled, lightweight, and has an attached camera and light for daytime and nighttime rescues.

The EMILY is also buoyant and can keep multiple fully grown adults above water long enough for first responders to arrive.

Experts say the best part about EMILY is that anyone can use these simple controls during an emergency to try and save a life.

“Drowning is a very quick experience,” says Bobby Pratt, Director of Education for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “Drowning from the time a person starts the drowning process, it’s less than a minute before they go underwater, and that’s why it’s so important that we have something that works immediately. Floatation is the key to drowning; if we can keep people afloat if we can keep them at the surface of the water where they can breathe, we can keep them there long enough before the professional rescuers arrive. EMILY allows us to do that in a very safe way, keeping the rescuer on shore and providing floatation for the victim until professional rescuers can get there.”

Officials with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project say that this rapid response program could help save precious time.

“Simply dialing 911 takes four to six minutes for the average response time for police and fire agencies, and unfortunately, that’s just too long,” Pratt said. “Once the victim is underwater, we lose the opportunity to rescue them, and the clock is ticking. If we can get to that person and start resuscitation measures within the first two minutes, there’s a 94% chance of survival, but every minute we push that out, it decreases by 10%. So, after ten minutes or so, we’re probably looking at a body recovery and not a rescue.”

It’ll be up to local officials to decide whether or not they want the EMILY devices available on beaches for rapid rescues.

But equipped with an EMILY device or not, experts want people to know that if they are in this situation, never attempt to rescue someone from drowning without being equipped with something buoyant; a raft, a life vest, a standup paddleboard; because as Bobby Pratt said, floatation is the key.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says they are working on creating a graphic with instructions for ease of use during an emergency situation.

This video shows an example of someone who had to be rescued at South Beach in 2020, which officials with G.L.S.R.P say is a perfect example of where EMILY could be utilized.

The EMILY weighs about 35 lbs and has a battery life of about 25 minutes going full throttle.

You can learn more by heading to G.L.S.R.P’s Facebook page.