Natural Hazards

, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 1395–1405 | Cite as

Short communication: public interest in rip currents relative to other natural hazards: evidence from Google search data

  • Chris HouserEmail author
  • Brent Vlodarchyk
  • Phil Wernette
Short Communication


Informing and warning beach users about the danger posed by the rip current hazard remain a difficult challenge. Recent evidence suggests that warning signs and flags alone have limited effectiveness and that there is the potential for beach users to ignore broadcast warnings if they are not consistent with their direct perception of the surf conditions or the behavior of others on the beach. While the “Break the Grip of the Rip!”® education campaign in the USA improved knowledge about rip safety, there is evidence that beach users have limited awareness about and interest in rip currents in general. It is hypothesized that compared to other natural hazards, there is a lack of media attention and public interest in rip currents despite their greater frequency and relatively large number of lifeguard rescues each year. Google search data are used as a proxy for public interest in rip currents globally between 2004 and 2015 compared to other natural hazards. Results suggest that the relative number of Google searches for rip currents is several orders of magnitude smaller than searches for storms, earthquakes, volcanos and shark attacks despite a much greater frequency of fatalities, rescues and events during this period. The number of searches and fatalities for rip currents is nearly identical to lightning strikes, suggesting that there is little interest globally in the most common and distributed natural hazards compared to less frequent but more sensational hazards. This suggests a need to increase the number of media reports and stories about rip currents, rescues and drownings to increase public awareness and knowledge of the hazard.


Rip currents Natural hazards Google 



Funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) partially supported this Project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of the EnvironmentUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada

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