BEN signs to save lives

City Beach and Floreat are the latest spots along the WA coast to receive new, potentially life saving signage.

Sixty BEN (Beach Emergency Numbers) signs have been installed at a number of beaches by the Town of Cambridge, the latest council to join a state-wide initiative.

The code on this BEN sign at City Beach signifies Cambridge Council, 31 km from the northern boundary. Photo: Isabella Clarke.

The signs are located at beach access points and feature a code corresponding to their exact location which can be relayed to emergency services.

Interactive map of BEN sign locations. Image: sharksmart.com.au.

The acronym BEN is in honour of local surfer Ben Gerring who died from a shark attack in 2016 off the coast of Gearies Beach in Falcon.

BEN Sign Program Co-ordinator Marion Massam said an issue that arose during the incident was a delay in paramedics being able to locate Mr Gerring’s position on the beach.

“Especially with long beaches that have one name and many entry points, it’s difficult to know where a person is,” she said.

She said the City of Mandurah took on the issue, prompted by Ben’s brother Rick, and developed the coding system a few months later, installing 81 signs in their council district.

In December 2017 the State Government launched a funding program for local councils to join the project, with 16 councils now on board.

The signs are being progressively installed from Geraldton to the South Australian border, and Ms Massam estimates they will exceed 1500 signs.

Beachgoers enjoy the water at City Beach. Photo: Isabella Clarke.

Locations also include harbours, boat ramps, jetties and lakes as well as popular recreation spot Blackwall Reach.

Ms Massam said the impact of the signage has been well documented.

“Since the scheme started there’s been well over 250 calls that have been made to 000 that the police have dealt with, and about 60 calls that have been made to 000 that St John Ambulance have dealt with that have used BEN signs to assist in locating the emergency,” she said.

Surfing WA Events Manager Justin Majeks said a lot of beaches in WA aren’t well-known, and often have colloquial names amongst the surfing community.

“Some of the names are quirky and peculiar, so you can’t sort of Google Maps them and find them,” he said.

“I think [BEN signs are] just a really basic and smart decision because there’s so many different pathways that lead to so many stretches of coastline along WA.”

The roll out of the new wave of signs comes on the back of the release of Surf Life Saving WA’s coastal safety report for the 2018/2019 summer.

Statistics show a 31% increase in coastal drowning deaths with 17 lives lost.

SLSWA General Manager Chris Peck said were it not for surf lifesavers and services, there would have been an additional 50 deaths.

“Last year our lifesaving services performed 481 rescues and 52,544 preventative actions,” he said.

Ms Massam said 25 out of 32 local councils in WA’s south west had applied for the government grant for BEN signs, with the program expected to expand even further in the future.

Surf life savers in training at Cottesloe Beach. Photos: Isabella Clarke.