Jody Lindbeck’s Mum’s the Word | OPINION, September 14, 2017

IN THE lead-up to Hurricane Irma, my friend Bonnie Amson shared a post on her Facebook page which showed a Florida theme park moving its animals to safety.

Bonnie, who spent a year in Wagga on a teacher exchange program, is a Canadian who now lives in Tampa, Florida, an area hit hard by Irma.

As she and her family prepared for the hurricane, she was amused by the video showing Busch Gardens’ flamingos being herded away, bobbing along single file.

It was, I guess, a bit of dark humour in what was literally the calm before the storm.

Now that it’s pased over Tampa, the news from Bonnie is good: They are safe, they have power and there was minimal damage to their property.

But a quick look at any news bulletin will tell you that others did not fair so well. The hurricane has left at least three dead in Florida, 10 in Cuba and 24 in other parts of the Caribbean.

The damage bill is billions of dollars and counting, and the pre-storm evacuations were some of the biggest in US history.

Here in Wagga, we don’t see a lot of hurricanes.

But summer is coming, and we’ll likely see our fair share of emergencies – bushfires – before the end of the season.

In the USA, residents are well-used to preparing for storms, whether it’s hurricanes on the coast or tornadoes across the centre.

In many cases, good preparation and following the sensible advice of emergency authorities is often the key to minimising the risk to life and property.

Likewise, here in regional Australia, we have learned that taking precautions during bushfire season can help reduce the risks.

But bushfires are not the only summertime risk we need to consider in the Riverina. We also need to remember that with the heat comes the likelihood that more people will be trying to cool off with a swim.

In 2015, the Royal Lifesaving Society named the Murrumbidgee River the sixth deadliest in the state.

On Tuesday the society released it’s annual report for the 2016-17 year, showing 291 people drowned in Australian waterways during that period.

Of those, 93 were in NSW and one was in the Murrumbidgee River near Wagga Beach.

Now, obviously each of these tragic incidents comes with a particular set of circumstances and it may well be that no amount of preparation could have changed the outcome.

But I do think these statistics should serve as a timely reminder that drowning remains a real risk. From backyard swimming pools to damns, creeks, rivers and waterways, there are real risks that need to be considered.

Whether it’s closely monitoring small children around the water, not mixing alcohol and swimming or being aware of currents in rivers, everyone planning to swim over the warmer months needs to make sure they’re aware of the risks and how to minimise them.

The Kids Alive – Do the Five campaign has a concise message on how to keep little ones safe and it’s advice that’s worth remembering. These are: Fence the pool , shut the gate, teach your kids to swim; supervise anyone swimming and finally, learn how to do CPR.

In 2008, the Australian Water Safety Council announced a goal of halving drownings by 2020.  So far, the number of drownings is down by 24 per cent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get it to zero?

Jody Lindbeck

jody.lindbeck@fairfaxmedia.com.au