Coastal flooding due to wind, rain and tides has been part of the Jersey Shore forever. It has been damaging property and occasionally threatening lives for many decades. Kind of surprising, then, that only recently have people started to get serious about using digital technology to help avoid such harms from flooding at the shore.
For years, the public has been able to go online and look at live wave conditions for surfing or into nest platforms to watch as ospreys feed their chicks. Now they can view an intersection in Sea Isle City that often floods — 40th and Central Avenue — to see the water in the street at that moment and get an idea of how much the town is flooding. That can help drivers avoid putting their cars into damaging, corrosive salt water or, worse, leaving their cars overnight where rising waters may render them worthless.
The flood camera — at www.njcoastalcoalition.com — is part of the city’s new $226,000 flood alert system, the largest in the state. The coalition, a group of more than 20 municipalities that formed after Hurricane Sandy, wants to set up similar flood cameras in most shore towns in the next few years. Ten coastal communities in Atlantic and Cape May counties may join the initiative.
The Sea Isle system also includes 78 flood warning signs on city streets that start blinking when water rises enough to cover the streets. Five of the sign poles have sensors at their bases and, when they detect flooding, they start flashing warning lights on signs in the area.
The sensor poles also have cameras at the top that take photos of the flooding street and send them to the city police station, where a dispatcher confirms the flooding and alerts the public via text message, email or recorded message. The city uses the Everbridge Nixle alert system and people can sign up for the alerts by registering at local.nixle.com or by simply texting their Zip Code to 888-777 (Sea Isles’ Zip is 08243).
This is a good start to using technology to adapt to flooding. Already existing flood information applications, or apps, show where this is heading.
One called FloodWatch allows users to monitor U.S. rivers and streams with maps that include live data from U.S. Geological Survey water level gauges. Users can select their favorite gauges and see current gauge height, flood stage and precipitation.
The ESRI US Flooding App offers a map with continuously updated information from river and stream flood gauges across the U.S. and from the National Weather Service.
Coastal areas unfortunately don’t have the flood-gauge coverage of river floodplains, perhaps because river flooding is more frequent or predictable. Another project of the New Jersey Coastal Coalition is installing flood sensors under more than two dozen storm drains in Avalon and Longport to track flooding on a street-by-street basis. Officials hope to identify where the worst flooding occurs and set up warnings for people in those areas.
Once coastal areas have enough flood gauges providing current data, apps can take the next logical step and combine that with weather information for a precise picture of current and forecast flooding. The app then could provide appropriate warnings for the GPS location of the smartphone or computer — for example, maybe a text or audible “Flooded streets nearby, check map” or “Flooding expected soon, plan accordingly,” with guidance on driving, parking and evacuating as needed. One app eventually should be sufficient to alert for all natural hazards that might arise, such as flood, storm, wildfire, maybe someday even earthquake.
Sea Isle, Avalon and Longport are helping work toward that better informed and safer future. May it arrive sooner rather than much later.