Great Lakes Region

Since 2010, there have been over 600 drownings on the Great Lakes due to a variety of factors, including cold water, high waves, and dangerous currents. The Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium (GLWSC) is a community of practice dedicated to ending drowning in the Great Lakes. The GLWSC brings NOAA programs, such as the National Weather Service, Sea Grant, and Coastal Zone Management into a collaborative environment with first responders, broadcast media, community leaders, state departments of natural resources, research scientists, lifeguards, and other water safety advocates. The goal is for members to maximize their collective water safety knowledge and resources to fulfill the mission of ending drowning.

Thanks to several NOAA-led grant efforts, the GLWSC hit the ground running. Since its inception in 2016, various consortium committees have made several notable accomplishments:

• Beach Warnings and Rescue Equipment Committee, led by Susan Och, Leland Township Supervisor, ordered and distributed updated beach signage and equipment to numerous Great Lakes beaches.

• The Media and Messaging Committee, led by Jamie Racklyeft, GLWSC Director and University of Michigan communications specialist, coordinated a consistent set of water safety messages for partner and public use across the Great Lakes. These included the messages created by the 2016 Current Smart campaign, which were created by Sea Grant as part of a NOAA Coastal Storms project. They used these messages and others to create a Great Lakes Water Safety Brochure for distribution at various beaches, lakefront communities and hotels.

• The Lifeguarding Committee, led by Adam Abdijan of Evanston, IL Lakefront and Beaches, developed standardized beach rules to serve as best practices at Great Lakes lifeguarded swimming areas, set to be released at the April 2018 conference.

• The Awards Committee, led by Caty Simcek, family of Michigan rip current victim Travis Brown, created the Water Safety Superhero award, Volunteer of the Year award, and the Brown Family Lifetime Achievement Award, all designed to recognize those who made significant contributions to water safety or who risked their lives to safely rescue others from drowning. Awards are also used to generate media attention for water safety.

The GLWSC has hosted three Great Lakes-focused Water Safety conferences in Grand Haven, Mich.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Sheboygan, Wis. The 2018 conference will be held April 26-27 in Evanston, Ill., with the theme Education-Prevention-Interception. Sponsors include Minnesota, Illinois/Indiana, and Michigan Sea Grant.

The GLWSC is working on several projects that are set to be completed this year. These include a Great Lakes Drowning Database, a consolidated and improved Great-Lakes specific water safety curriculum, and a “Water Safety Playbook,” which will serve communities looking for more information in the wake of a water safety tragedy. The playbook, hosted on the GLWSC website, will feature information that local officials can use to identify problem areas and improve safety at the beach, obtain materials for education and training, and get in touch with other communities who have been through similar tragedies.

If you are interested in serving the Great Lakes region and are passionate about water safety, join the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium! Membership is free. To learn more, visit


Top Right: Bob Pratt and Susan Och presenting at the 2017 GLWSC Conference in Sheboygan, WI. Bottom Left: Bob Pratt and WSBT broadcaster Ed Russo conducting live media interview training at the 2016 GLWSC Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Bottom right: Sheboygan Firefighter participating in a demonstration of rescue equipment at the 2017 GLWSC Conference in Sheboygan, WI.

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