When David Harrison visited Panama in January — nine months after his niece, Caleigh Harrison, vanished from Rockport’s Long Beach last April, he noticed flags were set out on his resort’s beach to notify beach goers of water safety concerns, and he wondered why Cape Ann’s beaches lack this system.
“When I saw that, I realized that a third world country has safety flags for their beach, but we don’t have them in Gloucester or in Massachusetts in general, that just kind of struck a nerve in me,” Harrison said Tuesday. “It’s like this just doesn’t make any sense.”
Harrison and his family members set out contacting state Sen. Bruce Tarr about enacting a similar program in Massachusetts. Tarr wrote up legislation that would allow cities and towns in the state to participate in a program of posting specific and uniform color-coded warning flags at beaches to notify swimmers and beach-goers of water conditions.
The legislation was inspired by the disappearance of Caleigh, the 2 1/2-year-old who disappeared while on an outing with her mother and then-4-year-old sister from Rockport’s Long Beach last April.
The legislation — now called Caleigh’s Law — passed through a hearing with ease Tuesday morning, moving forward to the Senate Ways and Means Committee then the Senate floor for a vote with favorable action from the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
“We feel that it’s a huge step and it makes everything that we’ve been doing real,” Harrison said. “This is probably the best day that we’ve had in over a year, just because of how fast this went through and the support we’ve gotten here...If we can save one other person from this happening to them, then we’ve done good.”