SEA ISLE CITY — It was a familiar scene in town last September: A family driving through the north end during a coastal flooding event had to be saved by emergency officials. Their car died as it struggled to push through water that inundated the street.
The husband, wife and newborn from Stafford Township were one of 20 car rescues that day, said police Chief Thomas McQuillen on Monday as the city behind him unveiled its new, $226,000 flood alert system, the largest in New Jersey.
Nearly 80 blinking flood warning signs have been installed on poles throughout the city, some equipped with sensors and cameras. It’s meant to prevent people from driving through flooded roads and creating wakes that can damage nearby homes.
“We do have a lot of out-of-town visitors and people who aren’t as familiar with the roadways,” McQuillen said. “A system like this is critical in real time getting the information out.”
Sea Isle City, like other shore communities, anticipates increased flooding in the face of sea level rise, and it’s generating creative solutions to familiar problems.
In North Wildwood, officials passed a “No Wake Zone” ordinance to require drivers to pass through flooded streets slowly enough to avoid creating waves. Sea Isle is considering a similar plan.
“As you see many times, those with big trucks and SUVs think it’s all good to go through the waters, and they cause more damage than they realize,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
Five of the 78 signs throughout the city have metal boxes attached to them. A fiber-optic chord runs from the pole’s base to the box. When it floods, the chord sends a signal to illuminate the sign.
A camera at the top of the pole simultaneously snaps 15 photos of the street and sends them to the city’s police station a few miles away, where a dispatcher confirms the flooding and alerts the public via text message, email or recorded message.
It’s based off the same technology used in speed radar signs.
“We already had that technology. ... I thought ‘Maybe it would work with this,’” said Rob Roth, senior application engineer at TAPCO, the system’s manufacturer.
Roth pointed to the metal box, filled with colored wires, showing onlookers a demonstration of the system. Each “master pole” is solar-powered and will function even during power outages. The fiber-optic chord can be raised or lowered to only capture specific water levels.
Officers can also alert the dispatch center to flooding as they drive around the city and ask dispatchers to manually turn on the signs’ lights.
Most major roads in the two-mile resort are now equipped, including on Landis Avenue, Central Avenue, Sounds Avenue and Park Road. Signs also are at the foot of both sides of the Townsend Inlet Bridge and at the JFK Boulevard bridge.
The cost was shared between Sea Isle City and Cape May County.
Sea Isle City is beefing up its alert system for more frequent flooding in other ways, with global sea levels expected to rise by eight feet by 2100, one Rutgers study found. Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a study that found that the Jersey Shore could see $1.6 billion a year in damages from flooding.
In February, officials installed a web camera at the city’s public safety building to monitor frequent flooding there. A live stream is not available for the public yet. The $5,000 web camera, funded through an OceanFirst Bank grant, will let seasonal residents view conditions at their summer homes.