Each of us have likely met someone who was surprised to find the Corps of Engineers involved in recreation, and even more surprised to learn that we do water safety educational outreach. A common reaction is "What does an engineering group - dam builders, no less - have to do with saving the lives of boaters and swimmers?"
The history of the Corps' early involvement in water safety is not clearly documented, but the Corps participated in early relationships with other agencies concerned with water safety as far back as the early 1950's. Corps safety experts were among the founding fathers of the National Water Safety Congress more than 50 years ago, in Nashville, TN. Once park rangers were hired for lake and waterway project staffs, it is certain that they became key players in public safety and assistance initiatives. Larger divisions, such as LRD, SAD and SWD, were among the first to put together comprehensive plans to decrease public fatalities and accidents. It was during the mid-1970's when the Chief of Engineers noted that nearly 500 lives had been lost at Corps lakes and waterways in a single year. Recognizing that more effort was needed to improve public safety in Corps areas, he issued the first official directive for the Corps to amplify their water safety educational efforts.
In 1986, the start of a centralized Corps National Water Safety Program began, when Operations became a proponent for a centralized program for product development. The product development oversight was given to HQ-IM, while program coordination was assigned to the Natural Resources Management Office. The intent of centralizing the program was to improve the professional quality of products and to assure that materials were made available unilaterally throughout the Corps.
In 1994, an agreement was negotiated with Walla Walla District, Northwestern Division, to establish a National Operation Center (NOC) for Water Safety; product development and program oversight responsibilities shifted to the NOC. This move was seen as an opportunity to maintain the centralized program while allowing for more grassroots level involvement. A product advisory committee was created to provide input into the program and improve field level involvement. The NOC manager chairs the committee, with membership comprised of NRM representatives from every Corps Division, as well as representatives from public affairs and safety offices.
In 2009, the NOC was relocated to the Sacramento District, South Pacific Division. In 2012, the NOC was relocated to the Fort Worth District, Southwestern Division and that is the present location of the NOC.