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Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation and FPL join forces with new rip current simulator

Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation and Florida Power & Light partner to combat rip current dangers, using a simulator to offer hands-on safety education, benefiting beachgoers at Destin's Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center.
Destin Beach Safety Lt. Harrison Smith (pictured left) shows brothers Mason Whitehead (pictured middle) and Austin Whitehead (pictured right), from Colorado, how to recognize and escape a rip current, using a rubber duck in the rip current model.

A new partnership between the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation and Florida Power & Light Company aims to prevent rip current tragedies through hands-on beach safety education. 

  • The rip current model and beach safety program was made possible by a collaboration between ECFF, Diane Fraser, director of the Emerald Coast Science Center, and science display creator, Jeff Wheat, with funding from Florida Power & Light Company.

FPL recently awarded ECFF grants totaling $6,500 to purchase portable rip current simulators for the foundation’s safety presentations and the Emerald Coast Science Center. The grants, funded by the NextEra Energy Foundation and FPL’s Community Connectors program, will allow ECFF to expand its beach safety program to its Crestview aquatic center.

The portable simulators feature a tabletop-sized model that uses a rubber duck to demonstrate how rip currents flow through sandbars. Over 2,000 individuals have experienced the revolutionary tool at ECFF events since May. 

  • “I’ve been teaching water safety for years, and when we demonstrate how rip currents work with the simulator, it makes the concept more tangible,” said ECFF community outreach coordinator Wendy Rudman, who conceived the idea. “Thanks to FPL’s support, we created a realistic tool that enhances water safety education.”

The new technology gave Lisa Cooley’s visiting grandchildren hands-on experience before hitting Destin beaches in July. “Our grandsons are old enough to swim without us, so we’re trying to teach them about rip currents so they’ll be safe,” said Cooley.

So far this year, the ECFF reports that 65 swimmers have lost their lives to rip currents on U.S. beaches, including 15 in the Florida Panhandle. Rip currents prove fatal to those who don’t understand how to escape by swimming parallel to shore until out of the current.

Florida Power & Light Company has donated two grants for combined total of $6,500 to Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation this year to purchase rip current simulators and educational signs to expand the beach safety program. (Pictured L to R) ECFF Community Outreach Coordinator Wendy Rudman; FPL External Affairs Manager Bernard Johnson; Head coach Emerald Coast Aquatics and ECFF advisory board member Brad Kale; Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center manager Jackie Slingerland White; and FPL Community Relations representative Dana Hall.

FPL external affairs manager Bernard Johnson, who nearly drowned in a rip current while swimming off the Southern California coast as a teen, has been a big supporter of this mission. 

  • “Safety for our employees and customers is a primary focus at FPL,” said Johnson. “We are grateful for organizations like Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation for their innovative approach to rip current safety. The rip current simulator provides a great visual of what it takes to be safe, so our beach visitors will be able to swim another day.” 

Beach safety sessions featuring the new simulator occur Saturdays at 1pm at the Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center in Destin.

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