ORCA Unit could be solution for safer swimming on Tybee Island


TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — Following a series of drowning incidents on Tybee Island last year, one local resident created a product to help keep swimmers safe.

The ORCA Unit, or Ocean Rescue Communications Asset, was invented to help save lives on Tybee Island.

After struggling to find a lifeguard for help during a medical emergency on the island, Mikell Cates drew up the design for the ORCA Unit.

The system has multiple functionalities. It can allow lifeguards to scan the water for people through an iPad or laptop and issue flag warnings using the LED lights at the top of the pole.

“If you have an existing lifeguard stand, I can take this technology and add it to the lifeguard stand, so it then communicates with others, so you create a whole lifeguard network,” Cates told WSAV NOW.

“A lifeguard can be in one location but be monitoring the area that this is augmenting from wherever he or she is at,” he added.

It can also announce messages to beachgoers about flag warnings and rip currents.

“’We’re two hours from low-tide, please come in.’ You know, that kind of thing,” he said.

Cates tested the system successfully last summer on the shore where many of the drownings occurred due to strong tides and large gaps between lifeguard stations.

“As we know, in that 18th and 19th street down there, that tide goes way out, and people like to go out and pick up seashells,” Cates explained. “But when it turns around, it’s like a vacuum.”

The solar-powered unit can be operated remotely and night vision cameras allow swimmers to be easily seen in the water after dusk.

“In total darkness, you’re seeing what’s going on,” he explained. “A lot of times in the summer, people go for those swims after dark.”

It’s also equipped with an emergency button that can be pushed for immediate help and carries a stretcher and first aid kit onboard.

“You can push the emergency button on the unit and it will contact the 911 call center directly. They can see you and you can talk back to them and tell them, ‘we’ve got someone in trouble here.’”

Units can also be used by law enforcement during the off-season for parades and traffic control. Though testing is still underway, Cates says he hopes the system can be used to give beachgoers peace of mind when visiting Tybee this summer.

“Particularly in areas where there isn’t coverage, it could be very valuable to any city or town that has a beach and tries to cover it.”

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