'In the dunes next to the Zwin area, there is a work of art called 'Hospitality' by Barry Flanagan', explains Philippe D'Haene, operator at the Maritime Security Centre Belgium (MIK), the 'brains' behind the database. 'But hardly anyone in Knokke uses the proper name for the work of art. It is commonly known as 'Het Keun' (the rabbit in local dialect), because it represents a hare or rabbit. The people answering the calls in the emergency centre are not always familiar with those 'exotic' names. This causes confusion and valuable time gets lost.'
For such problems, the new computer programme comes in handy. 'The operator at the emergency centre can feed these local names into the programme and it will automatically generate the right location, says governor of West-Flanders Paul Breyne. 'It is not even necessary for the spelling to be correct: the programme can also work with phonetics. This means that time is won, crucial for rescue operations where one second can decide on life or dead.
According to Breyne, the programme is unique in the world. 'Every reference point is numbered, and by means of those numbers all emergency services know where to go to.'
Governor Paul Breyne also wants to aks municipalities to guarantee a minimun occupancy of lifeguards outside the classic summer period from May to September. Lifeguard are often the eyes of our emergency services: on the beach they can assess the situation better. During the Easter holiday, the good weather made for crowded beaches, but no life guards were present. Consequently, the Seaking has been scrambled 35 times during the holiday, but every time it appeared to be a false alarm. If every coastal municipality would have one lifeguard present outside of the usual summer period, a lot of these unneccessary interventions could be prevented.