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Part of the mission of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) is to assist and preserve public safety along the highways and waterways, even the airways of the state. To do so, the agency will build on partnerships with local first responders to implement safety initiatives along with tips to keep Alabamians and guests safe while enjoying summertime festivities.

“As the state law enforcement agency, we have developed a variety of initiatives to ensure that Alabama’s highways, waterways and beaches are safe for all,” said ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor.

Additionally, this year the agency is taking safety a step further by utilizing its Aviation Unit in partnership with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to assist with a Summer Rescue Swimmer detail throughout Memorial Day weekend.

“The purpose of this detail is to provide a rapid response water emergency team to enhance the safety for all citizens and visitors on Alabama’s beaches,” said Protective Services Division Chief Stephen Tidwell. “Our Aviation Unit will provide an aircraft and pilot to quickly fly and deploy rescue swimmers from both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Fire Departments to distressed swimmers. The aircraft will also be utilized to conduct beach safety flights, patrolling in those areas where lifeguards are not available.”

According to the Director of ALEA’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) Colonel Jimmy Helms, they are anticipating and preparing for heavy beach traffic.

“We know that many citizens across the state are planning to visit and enjoy Alabama’s beautiful beaches, which is why we felt it necessary to coordinate, develop and include beach safety within our agency’s Memorial Day and summer safety initiatives,” said Helms.

Chief Steve Thompson is responsible for ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division.

“Along with ALEA Aviation, Troopers assigned to our Marine Patrol Division will also be available to assist with any boaters in distress, not only on the Gulf Coast, but along all Alabama’s waterways,” said Thompson.

“After the challenges and restrictions of COVID-19, we understand that Alabamians and citizens from across the nation will be traveling through our state to enjoy this holiday weekend with both friends and family,” said Taylor. “All available troopers within the ALEA’s Highway Patrol Division will be out in full force during this Memorial Day holiday weekend to ensure Alabama roadways are as safe as possible.”

ALEA reminds drivers to expect heavier traffic than usual and adjust travel plans to accommodate busier roadways and waterways and leave a bit earlier. Helms addressed the importance of remaining attentive around large vehicles and semi-trucks, which have limited maneuverability, longer stopping distances and bigger blind spots.

“We remind everyone how important it is to be vigilant when driving on roadways in heavier-than-normal traffic, especially when commercial vehicles are present,” Helms said. “You must be a defensive driver because the slightest amount of inattention can have tragic consequences.”

According to ALEA, following too close is one of the leading contributing factors behind crashes. Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children, so ALEA reminds all drivers, every time, “Buckle up – no matter how short your trip.”

Additionally, Helms suggested drivers prepare their vehicles by having some essentials on hand in case of an emergency.

“While we recognize and understand motorists are eager to reach their favorite vacation destination, we cannot stress enough how essential it is to have a pre-trip checklist inspection and include a roadside emergency kit within that inspection,” Helms said.

While some of the recommendations for those traveling by road apply to those traveling by water, boating has unique risks, so ALEA offered suggestions on reducing those risks.

“Regardless of where you plan to enjoy your Memorial Day weekend festivities, Marine Patrol Troopers will be out patrolling Alabama’s rivers, lakes and beaches,” Thompson said. “We want everyone to relax and enjoy the upcoming weekend, but you must be safety-aware while on the water.”

ALEA also made the point that holidays are not the time for novice boaters to learn to operate their crafts as operator inexperience is one of the leading contributing factors to boating crashes in Alabama.” Boaters should be mindful of their fellow mariners and avoid passing too closely to boats in motion, boats at idle and persons in the water.

“Troopers will be conducting safety vessel inspections to ensure every boat on the water is properly equipped with all the necessary safety equipment including a personal floatation device (PFD) for everyone on board the vessel,” said Thompson.

The sun, wind and other weather conditions already produce an effect on boaters known as “boater fatigue,” and the consumption of alcohol intensifies the effect. Boaters should avoid the use of alcoholic beverages or at the very least use the designated operator system.

“Our troopers will also be on the lookout for indications that vessel operators may be impaired. Please understand there will be zero tolerance for boating under the influence,” said Thompson.

Along with advice for those navigating either by car or boat, ALEA provided the following beach & safety reminders:

Always check surf and weather conditions before heading to the beach. Observe beach flags.

Never swim alone. Always stay in groups. Don’t wander too far from shore.

Don’t swim near piers, pilings and platforms. Exercise caution when swimming in areas between sandbars or near steep drop-offs.

Do not swim in areas being used by fishermen. Avoid swimming in areas where schools of fish are present. Diving seabirds are good indicators of areas to avoid.

Use extra caution when water is murky. Avoid being in the water during dusk, nighttime or twilight hours.

Rip currents are most prevalent when the waves crash perpendicular to the beach rather than at an angle. Rip currents are also common in areas near sand bars, piers, pilings and jetties.

One of the easiest ways to spot a rip current is to look for gaps between the waves. A small patch of calm water surrounded by waves is often a rip current.

Look for discolored water near the shore. Rip currents tend to drag large amounts of sand and sediment back out to sea with them, so many rip currents are easily identified by a noticeable flow of sand extending away from the shore.

To connect with the author of this story, email sean.taylor@1819news.com or on Twitter @morninganthem.

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