Ocean City Today

Falcon discusses near shore spinal injuries at conference

By Kara Hallissey | Nov 02, 2017

(Nov. 3, 2017) Ocean City Beach Patrol Sgt. Jamie Falcon presented the results of his Ph.D. dissertation topic on “Evaluating Near Shore Spinal Injuries and Alternatives to Reduce Their Occurrence,” during the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 19.

“I looked at the [Ocean City] Beach Patrol’s education efforts, changes to beach replenishment and changes to artificial reef placement,” Falcon said. “Our beach is not particularly hazardous, but with four million visitors per summer, variation in beach replenishment volume and great records of the lifeguards’ education efforts, Ocean City makes a great case study for this worldwide problem.”

Falcon, who spent his 21st year working for Ocean City Beach Patrol this summer, gave a 15-minute oral presentation to about 100 people during the conference.

He explained how riding the breakers, misjudging the ocean depth and being knocked down by a wave are three situations, which result in the most spinal injuries caused in the ocean.

“I was able to use 1,104 observations and look at how those three variables of interest, education efforts, approximate replenishment volume by location and the distance to offshore obstructions such as artificial reefs, affected apparent injury severity at a known time and location,” Falcon said.

During the summer months in Ocean City, an average of 100 beachgoers hit their head on the bottom of the ocean floor and are checked out by the lifeguards or emergency medical services. Most are precautionary, but about 10 cases a year can be severe, he said.

“[According to] data [a] patient’s age is the most significant variable contributing to injury severity,” Falcon said. “The variables of interest, including replenishment, are not statistically significant in any full model.”

Falcon used records and information from the Ocean City Beach Patrol, Ocean City Engineering Department, Ocean City Waste Water Department, Ocean City Reef Foundation and the Town of Ocean City to conduct his research.

“Estimates of the United States incidence of aquatic spinal injuries range between 10 and 50 percent of the rate of drowning,” Falcon said. “These injuries are serious and sometimes leave people paralyzed, or deceased. It is a pretty big deal, but little understood.”

The conference took place Oct. 17-19 and about 800 people attended. It was hosted by the International Lifesaving Federation and co-sponsored by the World Health Organization.

“My presentation was well-received and a number of people stayed to ask me questions,” Falcon said. “I met two people who have read my dissertation. One of them is using my model to investigate spinal injuries along the coast of France. I also connected with a lifeguard from Huntington Beach, California, who wants to use their computer-aided dispatch data for research like mine.”

Falcon also met several researchers interested in his work and the trip will allow for opportunities to look at other resorts to investigate aquatic spinal injuries.

“The World Conference on Drowning Prevention provided a great target audience and a chance to meet people with similar research interests,” Falcon said.

In addition, Falcon is assisting Dr. Mark Muller, of Salisbury University, “with his computer-simulated model of coastal interactions involving offshore obstructions and shore-face slope among other variables.”

“Thanks to the networking I was able to do at the conference, I am looking forward to working with other researchers looking at coastal resorts around the world investigating this problem,” Falcon said. “I sent the International Lifesaving Federation my abstract and they let me present with them.”

Falcon received his Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in May of 2016, which he began thinking about more than 13 years ago.

“My collateral duty in the Navy was rescue swimmer so the beach patrol was a natural fit for a summer job through college,” Falcon said. “I was also a Navy Quartermaster and I was able to keep an outdated nautical chart of our coast when I got out. I used it as a poster.”

When Falcon was in graduate school for economics, he thought of ways to investigate spinal injuries by using the nautical chart features such as offshore obstructions including reefs and shoals.

“I am pretty dedicated to lifesaving. As the body slows with age, a way for me to move forward is with research,” Falcon said.

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