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Raising a Red Flag
by sandy feet

Good morning class! Today we are going to discuss a very important topic, one that could help save your life or that of someone you love. The subject of today's lesson is "Raising a Red Flag -- What Does It Mean?"

First, some flag basics: Wave the Red, White & Blue if you are watching the US soccer team kick butt in the World Cup; a white flag is handy if you wish to surrender to somebody, while a red flag is one that demands attention. For example, if your accountant tells you that something in your tax returns is going to "raise a red flag" with the IRS, maybe you should reconsider claiming those 20 new bathing suits as "work uniforms."

As you may have heard, read or noticed, Cameron County officials have recently spent a nice chunk of change outfitting its beaches with brightly colored flags. Contrary to what some people seem to think, the county is not flying these flags just to make the natural scenery prettier. The purpose of of these flags is to warn beach-users of dangerous water conditions. The county has arbitrarily determined that a red flag indicates potential trouble -- and just to make double sure that this flag is correctly interpreted, they have also posted big signs in both English and Spanish explaining the meaning of the different colored flags.

While this may all seem a bit obvious, it has come to our attention (via a front page story splashed all over last Sunday's Valley Morning Star) that there are some people out there who are confused by this whole flag thing - specifically a recent visitor to the Island whose children had to be rescued from dangerous currents because the red flag flying that day was (reportedly) not a clear enough indication of potential danger. Am I alone in wondering just what it would take to have gotten this parent's attention?

Naturally, sensationalist stories of this sort tend to inspire a fresh round of demands for life guards on SPI beaches. As a person who makes a living traveling from one beach to another, I can assure you that resort areas that hire full-time life guards are the exception, not the norm.... primarily because of the tremendous expense - as well as implied liability - involved. We all know who would have to pay for this additional security and it is undoubtedly the same people who cry foul every time the county raises its admission fees.

We are all ultimately responsible for our own safety, as well as that of our children. While the county has voluntarily taken upon itself responsibility for informing us of dangerous conditions, it is up to the individual to heed - or ignore - posted warnings. The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful and great fun to play in, but it is also a big, scary body of water subject to overpowering currents and home to creatures that can harm us.

We all know that a few inches of water in the bottom of a bucket can prove hazardous to young children. For safer swimming conditions, visitors might consider utilizing one of the many swimming pools on the island - all of which are current and critter free. For big water thrills and spills without the associated danger, head over to Schlitterbahn; they have life guards all over the place. Want to be safe on the beach? Build a sand castle -- in the past decade of offering lessons we haven't lost a single person yet.

Class dismissed. See you on the beach!

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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