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    Interpreting Death to Save Lives: A Matter of Life and Vest

    Interpreting Death to Save Lives: A Matter of Life and Vest

    Photo By Pamela Doty | Images used in conjunction with Interpreting Death to Save Lives: A Matter of Life and...... read more read more



    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    By Amber Tilton, Park Ranger, NWD/POD Representative on National Water Safety Committee, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Dalles Lock and Dam, Portland District

    The Fear Factor
    I remember the conversation clearly. A colleague and I sat debating the latest water safety campaign messaging developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). “Are You Next?” was the slogan. As in, are you the next drowning victim?

    Talking about our own mortality is not something people like to do, let alone be reminded of it while relaxing on a sun filled beach with a cool drink and a smile on their face. There is no sugarcoating in that kind of message.

    As a park ranger for the Corps, I enforce rules and regulations for visitor and resource protection, when I have to. Threats of rules and consequences is a last resort. I would much rather help visitors make better decisions through understanding the ‘whys’. Why do we have this rule and why should you care, and when it comes to visitor safety on the water, why should you wear a life jacket? That last ‘why’ seems obvious but our statistics show it is not. Every year, an average of 164 people drown on Corps managed waterways and most (89%) were not wearing a life jacket.

    I often feel like a parent, concerned and responsible for my visitor’s safety, pointing out the blind spots and hidden dangers of recreation. Sometimes it’s as simple as a ‘did you know’ talk. Like, “Did you know it is tick season? Ticks can transmit disease so please check yourself and your dog for ticks after hiking today.” or “Did you know poison oak is common along this trail? It can cause severe allergic reactions in people. Let me show you what it looks like so you can avoid it.”

    In both of these examples people may perceive the consequences as ones they can live with and not necessarily as a life or death matter. It is a subtle appeal to fear compared to “Did you know that X number of people have drown here this year? Don’t let this be your watery grave. Don’t go home in a body bag; wear a life jacket.”

    So should we use fear as a motivator to change behavior? Is it effective? Just because people don’t want to hear or talk about the elephant in the room, does that mean we shouldn’t? Should we only focus on positive messages? Does messaging need to be optimistic in order to achieve a desired outcome?

    This was the debate.

    Shock Value – To Shock or Not to Shock?

    I recall the scare tactics of my childhood. For example, the ever popular myth “don’t swim after you eat or you could be seized with cramps and drown”, forever changed my behavior. I still will not swim after eating.

    Scare tactics are one tool parent’s use along with positive reinforcement, redirecting, modeling good behavior, and education. Therefore it’s not surprising that shocker messages are used in interpretation because people remember them. They provoke. But do they also provoke people into staying inside where it is safe; scared to death to recreate, to play, and to be outdoors?...that is food for thought.

    Love – Till Death Do Us Part

    Like fear, love is a powerful emotional influence. No one wants to part from their loved ones or watch them suffer from loss. People will protect what they love. The authority of our hearts is tied directly to the people we love and when we are reminded of this we take more care to protect ourselves.

    This is exactly what the Corps found when it conducted focus groups with adult men (63% of drownings are adult men ages 20-60), to develop new water safety campaign messaging. The majority of the men in the focus groups said that trying to scare them into wearing a life jacket does not work. What does work, are positive messages that clearly connect to why they should wear a life jacket.

    In 2015, based on the results of this study - the Corps, in cooperation with the Corps Foundation - launched a new adult water safety campaign, “Life Jackets Worn...Nobody Mourns”.

    “A positive approach combined with a pull on a person’s heart strings can be more effective than the shock value of scare tactics” said Pam Doty, USACE National Water Safety Program Manager. “The ‘Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns’ slogan combines a call to action with a positive outcome, which according to our focus groups had an emotional impact that changed their perspective and ultimately their behavior” said Doty.

    Regardless of which side of the debate you are on, it does not change the bottom line: Life Jackets Save Lives.

    LJWNM campaign resources such as video and audio PSAs, posters, social media and publication ads are available for public use at These resources can be combined with interpretive programs and events to help promote water safety.



    Date Taken: 10.16.2018
    Date Posted: 10.16.2018 19:06
    Story ID: 296685
    Location: US

    Web Views: 77
    Downloads: 0