The coast guard keeps an eye on the sea

Coast guard

Database reference points

Database containing all local place names along the Belgian coast.
Lifeguards get faster to 'Het Keun'(the rabbit) or 'Blote Betsy'(naked betsy).

Author: Tom Le Bacq

BLANKENBERGE/KNOKKE-HEIST/BRUGGE/MIDDELKERKE/KOKSIJDE/DE PANNE/BREDENE/DE HAAN/OOSTENDE - The province has developed a new database  with the different names of approximately a thousand places along our coast. 'If people call us to say that someone is in distress at'Het Keun' in Knokke, we can find out much quicker where we are expected to go', says operator Philippe D'Haene.

'Child missing in the neighbourhood of Blote Betsy' or 'swimmer in distress off De Pisser': when people contact the rescue services they often use these local place names. To prevent that the rescue services lose time with deciphering these mysterious messages, the province has developed a new database. The database contains 931 places along the Belgian coast, and all possible names that are used to indicate them.


'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.

Unique system

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.