A Smartphone App for Rip Current Aids Lifeguards and Researchers

By Lauren Wanko

You’ve heard the saying “there’s an app for that.” Nowadays, there seems to be an app for just about anything, including rip currents.

“The problem is we don’t know if rip currents occur unless people get stuck in them. So this basically fills that gap and we know about more rip currents as they’re occurring and we get additional information about the strength,” says Jon Miller of Stevens Institute of Technology.

The app was Miller’s idea and it was created by a team of computer science students. However, only lifeguards, researchers and the National Weather Service can use the app.

The strength of the program lies in how many shore towns participate. So far, six have signed up. Miller says the app is critical in understanding more about rip currents, which some researchers call one of the deadliest natural phenomena.

“Rip currents are thin, narrow jets of water directed offshore,” says Miller. “They are very unpredictable, they vary in strength, they vary in location and that’s what makes them dangerous. People go to the beach and they don’t know they’re there.”

The United States Lifesaving Association reports 80 percent of all rescues on surf beaches are due to rip currents. Former lifeguard Erin Hopson is all too familiar with the danger. If caught in a rip current, she says not to panic, but swim parallel to the shore…, wait until you’re out of the rip current and then swim back in. Hopson thinks the app will catch-on throughout the Jersey Shore because it’s fast and user-friendly.

The app is gaining national attention. The National Weather Service has expressed interest in using the app throughout the country.