For us, the big measure of how much work we do is “preventative actions.” This captures a range of activities anywhere from jumping off the rocks and swimming next to someone in a rip current around the head of the rock groin, to a blanket announcement on a loudspeaker telling people to clear the water because lightning is moving into the area, to talking to a mom on the beach explaining the dangers in the area.

We track all of these by calling the numbers in by radio to our dispatcher, who then enters it into our dispatch program. We have a specially designed system that keeps track of the numbers, so we can pull out all kinds of statistical data, which helps tailor our program to best use our resources in the places and times that are most efficient.

This year so far, we’ve already hit 293,602 preventative actions, and we’ve still got a ways to go. Last year, the total for the entire year was 217,537, and in 2019 we hit 263,170. This is really eye opening because 2019 was one of Galveston’s busiest years ever.

Last year was still high, even though the beaches were intermittently closed, and we missed quite a few potentially busy weekends and holidays.

Stats are weird in that you have to tease out the contributing factors for them to be used for something as practical as measuring the efficacy of a lifeguard service or measuring workload. The number for preventative actions is a good measure of workload, but there are several factors that go into it.

The number of people on the beach is the obvious one, but that alone isn’t too significant since they have to get well on their way to trouble before we intervene. By that I mean, for example, that if a thousand people are swimming between the rock groins at 53rd and 51st streets and the water is completely calm, we won’t have to move many from the rocks.

If there’s a current running and/or large surf with the same number of people swimming, we could be crazy busy and make hundreds of preventative actions in a matter of a few hours.

Water temperature is another variable. Thousands of people on the beach but water too cold to swim in it for long will keep stats way lower than a few hundred on the beach with warm water. Also, if the water is warm early in the spring and late in the fall, as is the trend, our annual stats climb even higher because we’re having to work harder more of the year.

In recent history, we’ve been looking at the swimming season as almost the entire year as opposed to just a few months.

And finally, the one that’s not immediately obvious is how many guards we actually have out there working in towers for how much of the year. More guards equate to higher stats related to prevention. Fewer guards mean less prevention, more rescues from vehicles and more drownings.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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