Mayor comes up with riptide alarm system

Posted 7/27/23

“It keeps me awake at night,” said Mayor Frank Picozzi Monday morning.

Picozzi was referring to the death of Yoskarly Martinez, a 10-year-old girl who drowned at Conimicut Point …

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Mayor comes up with riptide alarm system


“It keeps me awake at night,” said Mayor Frank Picozzi Monday morning.

Picozzi was referring to the death of Yoskarly Martinez, a 10-year-old girl who drowned at Conimicut Point Beach in 2021. He was with her family when the body was recovered. In the two years since, Picozzi took the initiative to prevent future tragedies. While there are warnings near the point parking lot, he had two giant signs erected on the beach. He thought more could be done, believing an active warning system could be developed.

When Picozzi started getting inquiries about electrical work at the point, he figured it was time to disclose what is being contemplated.

 “I wanted to get the facts out,” he said at a press conference. Picozzi, who before becoming mayor was known throughout Warwick for a technologically impressive Christmas lights display at his home, designed the system himself. The mayor spent months working on the project, identifying what the warning system would need before turning to Philip Carlucci, the city’s management information systems director, to track down suitable components. “Many of them [he] got on Amazon,” Picozzi laughed.

The sandbar at Conimicut Point is well-known for the danger it poses to unsuspecting beachgoers. In addition to rip currents that make swimming in the area dangerous, the incoming tide  can quickly cover the sandbar, sweeping away walkers. Signs placed at the sandbar warn of the danger, but they’re difficult to see at night, and drownings have continued to occur since their installation. The new warning system includes flashing lights and a recorded announcement. It will be installed on a utility pole close to the sign within two weeks. It is planned to operate 24/7 during the summer months.

A demonstration of the system, which had been pre-programmed to go off at 10:10 a.m.—and it did so, down to the second. The warning begins with a police siren and flashing red-and-blue lights, followed by a prerecorded announcement warning of the danger. The announcement repeats twice each in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, and then the siren sounds again. This repeats in five- or ten-minute intervals until the sandbar is considered safe. The police lights will continue flashing between these intervals with accompanying signage. The fire and police departments plan to program the system to go off every day at the most dangerous times, and new alarms can be activated in anticipation of storms and other one-off weather events. To avoid disturbing nearby residents’ sleep, however, the speaker and siren will only operate during the daytime. The lights will continue to operate at night.

According to Picozzi, the warning system technology isn’t far from his famous Christmas display. The system runs on 12-volt external power with various easily replaceable parts, including the lights and speaker repurposed from an old police car. For timing, the system uses the same online service that Warwick schools use to schedule school bells. Reusing existing components like these helped the city keep costs down. The Conimicut Village Association tried to have a warning system installed in 2016, but was deterred by the estimated $50,000 cost.

According to Carlucci, the mayor’s system that is made up of spare police car lights and speakers ended up costing less than $1,000. Although the mayor’s system is less technologically sophisticated than the one explored by the CVA—which would have drawn energy from a solar panel and directly measured the tide with underwater sensors rather than using tidal data—Lonnie Barham, who spearheaded the 2016 effort, says that from what he’s heard about it, he’s confident in the new system’s viability.

“I think this system’s gonna work,” he said. “I think it’s great.” He also gives kudos to the mayor for addressing the problem at all, contrasting Picozzi’s efforts with the lackluster response from the city under Scott Avedisian, who was mayor in 2016, when the CVA requested a grant. “I want to emphasize that Mayor Picozzi is the first mayor that has shown real interest in solving the drowning problem at Conimicut Point,” said Barham.

Picozzi said that most drowning victims at the sandbar are non-local and hence unaware of the danger. The most recent was Nicolette Biber of East Greenwich, who lost her life earlier this month when she went swimming at night. Warwick Police receive calls about the sandbar almost weekly.

 “Two summers ago,” Picozzi said, “a young girl named Yoskarly Martinez fell victim to the sandbar, as well as Valentin Cardona Sanchez, a very courageous hero who died trying to save her… That family wasn’t familiar with the dangers of the sandbar, and I know if we had this system in place, that tragedy would not have happened.”

With two weeks to go, preparations for the warning system’s installation are just about finished. Picozzi said the city is “currently awaiting a weatherproof enclosure to house the components of the system and one more street lamppost to put on the sandbar to mount the police lights,” as well as the finished design for the new signage, but the system itself is all set up and ready to go.

“We were all determined to find a way to prevent another tragedy,” he said, “and I think we have.”

sand bar, alarm, downings