Lights are Port’s latest waterfront safety measure

Signals at north beach that warn of dangerous currents are part of effort to prevent drownings

PORT WASHINGTON’S INFOS system, which helps detect rip currents off north beach, includes stop-and-go lights and a kiosk that will go online next week. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington’s newest stop-and-go lights will begin operating next week, but they won’t be directing traffic.

Instead, they will let people visiting north beach know if there are dangerous rip currents in the area.

If it’s not safe, the red light will be lit. If there’s a moderate risk of rip currents, the yellow light will shine. If it’s safe, the green light will be lit, Recreation Director Kiley Schulte said.

“It’s the start of swimming season, and hopefully, it will be more green than red,” Schulte said.

The beacons are the newest iteration of the integrated nowcast/forecast operation system — aka INFOS — that will be formally turned on in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 1.

The lights will be supplemented with a kiosk that will show rip currents in the area as well as a host of other information about beach conditions. 

“You just look at it and it’ll tell you what’s going on in the lake,” Schulte said.

A wireless wave sensor in the lake off north beach will send signals to the kiosk, providing the real-time information, she said, and a camera provides views of the lakefront.

There is also an INFOS phone app and website that gives beach-goers that information as well as data on wave height, water temperature and wind speed.

A QR code on the kiosk signage allows beach-goers to access the app.

“You can view it at home and decide, ‘Should we go to the beach today?’” Schulte said.

The INFOS system, which uses sensors and information from a variety of sources to detect and identify rip currents, was developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Chin Wu and has been in place in Port Washington since 2015. 

There are also INFOS systems in Duluth and Milwaukee.

“It’s very new, and we’re fortunate in Port to be part of it,” Schulte said.

The system cost about $60,000, which was funded through grants and donations from the Sea Grant Program, Wisconsin Coastal Management, We Energies and area businesses, she said.

The INFOS system was brought to Port through the efforts of the waterfront safety committee and former Mayor Tom Mlada, Schulte said.

The committee was formed after 15-year-old Tyler Buczek drowned off north beach when he was caught in a rip current in 2012.

The committee has spearheaded educational programs and initiatives, increased signage explaining the risks of rip currents, installed life rings on the beaches and life jacket stations.

“This is a part of their initiative,” Schulte said. “We want to improve the safety for our community, and this will go a long way to do that.

“This is super important, especially since we don’t have lifeguards at the beach. Even though people don’t always think about it, with this great lake we have there is a bit of potential for danger, and having a system in place that will let people know when it’s safe is very important.

“I think this will put us on the map and show people we’re doing innovative things to increase safety here.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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