New thermal imaging system aims to help prevent drownings in Galway

Galway Safe app also can help city visitors stay safe near the River Corrib


The River Corrib in Galway is the fastest-flowing city river in Europe. In full flow, it can carry a person at up to three metres a second. For watersports lovers, such speeds appeal. For emergency services, they pose major difficulties.

Drownings have become all too common in Galway.

So far this year, three men have lost their lives. Robert Murray went missing on January 8th, last seen near Shop Street. His body was found on Renmore Beach several kilometres away nearly a month later.

Conor Burke (24), from Ballinfoyle in the city was last seen in the early hours of Valentine’s Day at Abbeygate Street. His body was taken from the water near NUI Galway three days later.

Last Friday, a third man went into the water at Spanish Arch. Rescue teams moved immediately and pulled him from the water, but, despite their best efforts to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead at Galway University Hospital a short time later.

The majority of the deaths that occur in the river are accidents, not suicides. “After a few drinks, people are not as aware of their surroundings and it’s so easy to end up in the water,” says Neil Wilson, prevention officer with the Western Regional Drugs & Alcohol Task Force.

“Galway isn’t unique in that there are many bars near a river but in Galway, there are large areas unfenced close to the Latin Quarter and it can happen so quickly,” he said.

Efforts have been under way for nearly a decade to cut the death toll. Several avenues were investigated and ruled out on cost grounds, but, finally, it was decided to install thermal-imaging cameras along the river.


Two thermal-imaging cameras were installed – one at Galway Museum and one at the Port of Galway office. The cost amounted to approximately €30,000, with 80 per cent funding from the department. On February 13th, the cameras went live.

“We developed a system that would create an alarm using thermal, CCTV and wireless technology. The camera looks at a fixed area and draws thermal vectors across the water.

“When a warm body passes through this area, the camera picks it up and signals an alarm at Mill Street Garda station. This is the first Thermal Waterway Monitoring System in Ireland, possibly in Europe,” explained Ivor Curley from IC Services.

The new system, according to Supt Kevin Gately, is a radical improvement, building significantly on the work that has been done between a number of State and volunteer organisations.

Publicans, nightclub owners and hotels must meet their responsibilities, says Neil Wilson: “Publicans should be in a position to uphold the law and not serve people who are clearly incapacitated.

“The addition of signage at bars advising people where the nearest taxi rank is located would also be a help. Not everybody going out in Galway is from the locality and it’s easy to take a wrong turn when you leave the pub.”

Meanwhile, the taskforce has designed a new app called Galway Safe, which triggers on a person’s phone between the hours of midnight and 6am when they enter the Long Walk area of the city, between Spanish Arch and The Docks.

“If a person has the app downloaded, it tracks them once they enter this are a. When you download Galway Safe, you’re asked to enter three emergency contacts. If you dwell in this area on a night out, the app will activate and ask you if you’re okay.

“Traffic lights appear on your phone and if you’re okay, you press green; if you feel you need to talk to someone, you press yellow and the app sends a message to your emergency contacts, pinpointing your exact location.

“If you feel like you’re not in a great place, you press red and the emergency services are notified,” Mr Wilson said. Galway Safe is unusual in that the creators hope those who download it never use the app.

“Normally, companies try to get someone to download an app, hoping they use it every day. We hope people never have to use it but we would urge everyone to download it, enter emergency contacts and then forget about it. You might think ‘this will never apply to me’ but you never know.”

In the event of an emergency on the water in Galway, all agencies now operate on one central communications channel called Tetra. “This was a major step forward,” said Supt Gately.

“We all work off a dedicated channel so when a call comes in, the message gets out quickly. When we started, it was taking 30-40 minutes to notify everyone of the need for a rescue operation. Now, the fire service can be in their swift water gear and in the water in less than two minutes, giving us the best hope of rescue,” Supt Gately said.


“The Dan Buoy replicates the movement of a body in the water. Once it’s deployed within a short time of a person entering the water, it follows their trail. The device sends out signals, making it easier for rescue teams to locate a person. There’s one in the lifeboat station and one in the fire station. We’ve used them quite a bit and got results.”

Rescue teams in Galway also have had the occasional use of a sonar scanner, which maps out the riverbed and can pick out a casualty, though Galway is now top of the list to get one for itself, Civil Defence’s Brendan Qualter has confirmed.

Last week, Galway mayor Niall McNeilus called a meeting to discuss water safety, which heard that more signage and lighting is to be put in place along the city’s waterways.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to help people working in pubs, restaurants and elsewhere in the busy night-life district to act as first responders in a bid to ensure that action is taken immediately after an alarm is raised.

Roger Sweeney, Irish Water Safety deputy CEO has confirmed the organisation will today, carry out a risk assessment of the fast-flowing water from Salmon Weir Bridge to Nimmo’s Pier to see what more recommendations can be made to Galway City Council.