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Posted 12/19/2017

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By Tim Oberle
USACE Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. – The Lake Sidney Lanier Project Management Office will be recognized as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division’s annual Water Safety and Education Awards for having the most water safety contacts of the division’s 32 project lakes this past year. During the 2017 fiscal year, Lake Lanier had almost 340,000 direct contacts and more than 500 indirect contacts to educate the public on water safety.

The South Atlantic Division created the award back in 2010 to recognize individuals and teams who have contributed in a significant way to improve water safety in the region.

“We rely on our park rangers and natural resource specialists to keep the public safe, which is becoming increasingly difficult because of the sheer volume and the number of people we have coming to enjoy our projects,” said South Atlantic Division Natural Resources Program Manager Ryan Hartwig. “Lake Lanier demonstrated an award winning combination of project staff, volunteers, contract gate attendants, and management support that allowed them to make the most of the contacts in this region.”

In selecting this year’s awardee, the South Atlantic Division water safety project delivery team (PDT) took into account the quality, quantity and type of water safety contacts of each project lake. The PDT then took that information and weighed it against the size of the project and the number of staff to make the competition more equitable.

“We take project size and staff into consideration,” explained Hartwig. “Lake Lanier is a big lake with a lot of staff, so we try to make it so they compete on the same scale as a smaller project like Carters (Lake). We also have the [projects] provide supplemental information like how many school groups they reached out to, how many boating safety courses their volunteers attended, and how many quality contacts their gate attendants made. At the end of the day though, Lake Lanier was hands down, head and shoulders above the pack with the quality of their efforts and the numbers that they produced.”

As one of the busiest Corps of Engineers project lakes in the country with approximately 11.8 million visitors each year, the Lake Lanier Project Management Office looks at the achievement as just another day at the office.

“The Corps has a tremendous responsibility to get out there and talk about water safety given that we are the largest provider of water-based recreation in the U.S.,” said Lake Lanier Natural Resource Manager Nick Baggett. “It’s an ongoing process that never stops.”

Lake Lanier Water Safety Coordinator and Park Ranger Daniel Brownlow went into detail on the lessons that the rangers want the public to take from each contact.

“We talk to them about basic water safety, knowing how to swim, never swimming alone, keeping track of your children, and always wearing a life jacket,” said Brownlow. “But the bottom line is you always need to know your limitations.”

With an extremely diverse community living around Atlanta, the Lake Lanier staff tailors their message and presentation to better resonate with each audience.

“It takes a lot more than just going in and teaching the same water safety class over and over again because you will lose [people] quick,” said Brownlow. “So we are always looking for ways to evolve and modernize our program because you have to find a way to get people to want to accept the message.”

While the project spends countless hours in the community delivering their message, they also realize that at some point it is incumbent on the public to take responsibility for their own safety.

“Water safety is a matter of personal responsibility,” said Baggett. “I think our job is really just to remind people of that responsibility and to teach them about the dangers associated with water.”

Looking back on their accomplishment, Baggett attributes the project’s success to everyone working together as a team towards a common goal. 

“It’s really all about our people,” said Baggett. “It’s a team effort and all of our rangers take water and public safety very seriously. They take a lot of pride in what they do because they understand that it’s about protecting people.”