Holland groups create red flag video aimed at curbing drownings

A red flag warns of dangerous waters at Grand Haven State Park on Aug. 20, 2015.


HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Eight agencies in Holland are teaming up to send a dramatic life-saving message to teenagers about why it isn’t safe to swim when a red flag is out.

Between 2010 and last year, 536 people drowned in the Great Lakes, according to Sgt. Cal Keuning of the Ottawa County Marine Unit.

“The message in the PSA is critical and we are in a position to help educate teens about the dangers of these waters,” he told 24 Hour News 8.

A record number of drownings were recorded in the Great Lakes last year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The group says this year, there have been 20 possible drownings so far.

“(Lake Michigan) is beautiful today, but sometimes it gets fired up and the waves are too much for even the best swimmers,” said Jack Huisingh, director of the Holland Aquatic Center.

The four-minute PSA starts with three teenagers heading out to the beach. They spot a red flag warning about dangerous waters, but one girl ignores it, insisting she’s a strong swimmer.

The video then switches to her friend calling 911 for help and an intense search and rescue operation ensues. Radio conversations between all the emergency responders play out as watercraft comb the water, divers suit up, and paramedics prepare for the worst on shore.

The video cuts to black before showing first responders performing CPR on the girl as her friends cry and hold each other nearby.

The PSA then jumps to a year later, as the swimmer’s friends release balloons from a pier. The video ends with a message about the importance of red flags from Keuning.

“Every year, unfortunately, people die in water and we have to get the message out that it’s too dangerous to go in at those times. And there are other times to go, so stay on the shore, watch the great waves, but don’t go swimming,” said Huisingh.

He said the Holland Aquatic Center is incorporating it into its teaching program and hopes schools will do the same.

“We hope that young adults and adults will take a look at the PSA and think twice about going into the water when it’s dangerous and when the red flag is flying. And hopefully, we hope to save lives,” he added.

Huisingh said the idea for the red flag public service announcement came from one of the center’s swimming instructors, who said young adults needed to understand the power of Lake Michigan.

Eight groups are behind the new public service announcement, including the city of Holland, Holland Aquatic Center, United States Coast Guard, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, Park Township Fire Department, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, American Medical Response and Ottawa County Central Dispatch 911.

“We really wanted to pull everybody together and collaborate and decide how to show young adults that this is a dangerous time to go in the water,” said Huisingh.

Teenagers from Holland volunteered to be part of the PSA, as the victims. The video was made by the City of Holland Television Department.

“It was critical to make the Red Flag PSA reflect a real-life scenario to make an impact,” said Eric Bruskotter, city multimedia specialist.

“I believe we achieved this. It was emotional for all of us involved to recreate the scene of a drowning,” added Holland multimedia specialist Kevin Lee.

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