Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi stands July 25 near a newly installed emergency alert system at Seventh Street and Ocean Drive that can alert motorists to possible emergency conditions.

Dale Gerhard

Cape May County Emergency Management Coordinator and longtime Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi will visit Washington, D.C., today to share his expertise with Senate staff and national emergency management officials as keynote speaker of the National Preparedness Month Fair.

This is not the first brush with national influence for Pagliughi, who has previously consulted with senators on unified ocean water testing and federal funding for beaches. He also helped shape George W. Bush’s coastal engineering policy as part of the American Coastal Coalition during the then-governor’s first presidential run, and has been featured on the CBS Evening News for having put in place one of the nation’s most proactive mitigation programs in Avalon.

In his presentation, Pagliughi will discuss the mitigation measures he has taken in Avalon as well as the emergency protocols implemented countywide prior to Sandy’s arrival, and the lessons he learned in the storm’s wake.

“I think it’s going to be a good chance for me to give the message of what we’ve done in Cape May County and the borough of Avalon for the last 20-some years,” he said.

Pagliughi was elected to Avalon City Council in 1987 and has been mayor since 1991. As a coastal town, Avalon requires that a great deal of attention be paid to storm management and flood mitigation, and Pagliughi’s efforts over his 22-year tenure have proven highly effective.

Avalon has won several national awards for its storm preparations and has earned exemplary ratings that have translated some of the highest savings on flood insurance premiums for residents among New Jersey towns.

The borough was one of the first to grow dunes and establish emergency operation and evacuation plans beginning in the 1960s. It even tore down and rebuilt its government buildings to ensure they were above flood levels.

In 1997, Avalon was awarded the Hurricane Mitigation Award for its 30-year record of storm preparations.

Cape May County suffered little damage from Hurricane Sandy relative to its northern neighbors, but things would have been worse were it not for the plans put in place, Pagliughi said.

Pagliughi said he plans to advocate for increased federal funding for beach protection, citing a report by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers researcher James R. Houston that pegs the tourism industry — and specifically the beach segment — as one of the most lucrative sources of state and federal revenue per dollar invested.

Storms pose a significant threat to this revenue stream, he said, and preventive measures are a small expense compared to the cost of repair.

“Towns protected by engineered beach and dune systems had substantially less damage than the towns that didn’t,” Pagliughi said. “If you relate that back to the total damage of $60 billion, a lot of that could have been alleviated by mitigation.”

Pagliughi was chosen to speak at the fair in recognition of his experience in emergency management and the effectiveness of mitigation measures he put in place in Avalon and across Cape May County.

Among the key components of Pagliughi’s storm-readiness plan were the establishment of inland shelters that housed 700 evacuees the night of the storm, the creation of the County Animal Response Team to assuage residents’ concerns about their pets, and the delegation of emergency response tasks to the county’s 900 essential personnel.

Past keynote speakers of the National Preparedness Month Fair include the director of FEMA, the director of Homeland Security for Washington D.C., and the director of the National Weather Service. That Pagliughi was chosen to join this group speaks volumes about his impact on the community, county Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said.

“To be asked to be the keynote speaker at a function like that is ... an honor,” Thornton said. “It’s an honor for him and certainly an honor for the county of Cape May to have him representing us.”

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Worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties before joining The Press many moons (and editors) ago as a business copy editor. Passionate about journalism, averse to serial commas.