Tragedy is what brought the city of Port Washington together with UW-Madison engineering professor Chin Wu. On September 2, 2012, 15-year-old Tyler Buczek was swimming in Lake Michigan when a riptide suddenly pushed him out to deep water, where he ultimately drowned.
“It only takes a second,” says Port Washington mayor Tom Mlada.
The community, crushed by the death of Buczek, took action. More than $100,000 was raised to make the beaches safer. Life rings were installed on the Port Washington breakwater. Life jacket stations were placed on both of the community’s beaches. And new signage warns lake users of potential dangerous conditions.
If not for the partnership with UW-Madison … this project just wouldn’t have happened.
Those warning notices are thanks to an innovative program spearheaded by UW-Madison’s Wu. When he saw the news of Buczek’s death, he decided to take action and approached the city of Port Washington with a plan to create a warning system that could prevent similar tragedies from happening. The city agreed to be a part of the professor’s plan.
Wu then developed a system that monitored weather patterns that could help predict when and where riptides could occur. Then, securing a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he was able to test and implement pilot systems in three locations. One of those locations was Port Washington.
“If not for the partnership with UW-Madison, Professor Wu, and the NOAA, this project just wouldn’t have happened,” says Mlada.
The system has been a success, providing real-time data that local officials can use to update signs on Port Washington’s beaches that warn about dangerous conditions. The data is also available online, giving lake users instant access to allow them to plan their outings.
“Every community suffers tragedies,” says Mlada. “What shows true character is how the community responds.”