Mayor Leonard Desiderio leads a delegation of officials during a press conference to unveil the flood warning system in March 2019.

By Maddy Vitale

Sea Isle City officials say they take proactive steps to create a safe community. But being on a barrier island, surrounded by water, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to keep out the flood waters when Mother Nature is at her toughest.

As part of their strategy to protect residents and visitors from storm water, Sea Isle officials unveiled a flood warning system Monday that they described as the largest of its kind in the state.

It consists of 78 flashing road signs located in the most flood-prone areas in town. The warning system is designed to prevent people from driving through flood waters.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio, also a Cape May County freeholder, said, “Sea Isle City is taking the initiative to help alert businesses and visitors. Signs will alert motorists of flooding and to go in a different direction.”

Signs like this one on Landis Avenue will flash during flooding to warn motorists of storm water.

The cost for the flood warning system is $226,190, with $89,472 coming from Cape May County. Landis Avenue, a county road, will have the most signs out of anywhere in town.

Cape May County Freeholder Jeffrey Pierson said of the warning system, “This is really a good system. It is unique. I’m hoping other towns will think of using it. It can be linked and go from Avalon to Ocean City.”

The new system was manufactured by TAPCO Traffic and Parking Control Company, of Brown Deer, Wisconsin.

The road signs were supplied by Garden State Highway Products, of Millville. They are solar-powered and read “Road Flooded When Flashing.”

During a press conference, Rob Roth, senior engineer from TAPCO, gave a demonstration of how the system works.

Police Chief Tom McQuillen said he hopes the new system will prevent motorists from venturing into rising flood waters. He credited Brian Teefy, the city’s traffic maintenance supervisor, for coming up with the idea for having the warning system in Sea Isle.

McQuillen noted that a fast-moving October storm brought with it heavy flooding and left some motorists stranded, including one family with a baby.

“One rescue was a newborn who wasn’t even three months old,” McQuillen said. “We try to do everything in our power to alert people. This system is the latest way to help. A system like this is critical for real time alerts.”

While it isn’t in place yet, McQuillen said it will be up and running shortly.

Police Chief Tom McQuillen describes the benefits of the flood warning system, said to be the largest of its kind in New Jersey.

Sea Isle City residents and visitors will be able to register to receive free text messages and emails that will alert them to flooding.

Information regarding how to register for text messages and emails will be forthcoming in Sea Isle City’s e-newsletter, municipal website and the SICPD’s Facebook page.

Resident Lynne Shirk said the system is an excellent idea and much-needed.

“So many people don’t understand the dangers of driving through water,” Shirk said.

She pointed out that in addition to motorists being stranded in their cars, the vehicles also are damaged by the flood waters.

The new system will help alleviate that, she said.

According to information supplied by Sea Isle Public Information Officer Katherine Custer, when storm water is rising within a particular zone, a “float system” detects the flooding and will activate the flashing warning signs in that area.

The police department also can manually operate the flashing signs if it’s determined that flooding is imminent.

Every zone in the system has a camera mounted on a “master pole,” which can be viewed from the police department dispatch center. The cameras will allow the police department to visually confirm if there is an actual flood or if it there is a false alarm.

Custer said of the flood warning system, “The city always strives to make life better for the residents and the businesses and I think this will be an effective tool.”

Sea Isle, a low-lying barrier island, is vulnerable to flooding.