The Aug. 21st total solar eclipse is now less than a month away and Bonneville County leaders say they are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.
During an informational meeting held at the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium Wednesday evening leaders from Bonneville County, the City of Idaho Falls, Idaho Falls Fire Department, Idaho Falls Police Department, Idaho Transportation Department, the Bureau of Land Management, Eastern Idaho Public Health and BYU-Idaho shared nine months of planning with the community.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper told the crowd that NASA has told them that “for every one person we expect, multiply it by five.” The city says it is preparing for 500,000 thousand people.
LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE
Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride and Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde told the crowd they don’t anticipate a large increase in crime during the eclipse but believe the biggest problem will be traffic.
“Just have patience,” Wilde said. “Have patience with visitors. Have patience with one another. Have patience driving. Have patience with emergency services. “
Both departments said in the days leading up to, during and after the eclipse, it will be “all hands on deck.” McBride said his officers will be working 12 hours shifts and vacation will not be granted. Idaho Falls police detectives will also be in uniform to respond to calls.
On the day of the eclipse, the Police Department will divide the city into sectors.
“We will assign officers to those sectors on cars, bike, and foot to respond more quickly,” McBride told the crowd.
The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office said it will have extra dispatchers on hand to handle a large number of calls.
“We’ve all be working very diligent for what’s going on,” Wilde said. “We don’t know how many people we will get but we have estimates and we have taken that and will plan for that.”
Surrounding law enforcement agencies have agreed to be on hand to help with calls if needed, Wilde said.
While neither department anticipates an increase in crime, they are offering tips to protect yourself:
Know your surroundings If you own a business, bring in extra staff Secure valuables Gas up vehicles prior to eclipse Have food, water and cash on hand
The two agencies believe Monday will be the worst day for traffic. They encourage anyone who is traveling to create a travel plan in case you find yourself in traffic. McBride told the crowd that if you find yourself in an accident to exchange information, take pictures and be on your way. You are asked to only call 911 in the event of a serious injury or emergency.
“This event is coming no matter what we do,” Wilde told the crowd. “We can’t tell people to stay away. We can’t stop it. We are diligently working for everything.”
The Idaho Falls Fire Department will utilize the Type III Incident Response Team to handle most emergencies that arise during the eclipse.
The Type III team is made up of first responders, emergency operation managers and public health officials throughout Eastern Idaho and is responsible for incidents stretching from Bannock County to Teton County.
“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” Idaho Falls Fire Deputy Chief Dave Coffey told the crowd.
The primary goal of the team, according to Coffey, is to “put order to chaos.” Coffey says if you have an emergency, getting first responders to you will be slower than normal.
As with law enforcement, all fire personnel will be working in the days leading up to, during and after the eclipse. Coffey is encouraging the public to locate their nearest firehouse. With limited resources, it may not be possible for first responders to immediately respond to your call.
“If we can’t come to you, I hope you’ll come to us,” Coffey said. “So identify where your local fire house is.”
Coffey told the crowd that on a normal day every medical call, no matter how small, would be responded to. On the day of the eclipse, Coffey said, dispatchers will prioritize calls and will decide who gets an ambulance.
“At the end of the day we are planning for the worst and we are going to hope for the best,” Coffey said. “We will have everything in place that we can. If we fall on our face August 21, it is not because of lack of planning.”
The biggest concern on the day of the eclipse is traffic. The Idaho Transportation Department says it expects several hundred thousand more cars to travel Interstate 15 in the weeks before and after the eclipse.
Idaho Transportation Traffic Engineer Ben Burke spoke to the crowd about plans to handle those extra cars. Burke said that all constructions projects would be stopped on the day of the eclipse.
“In a normal year, we do $4-6 million worth of projects,” Burke said. “This summer we are spending $60 million.”
A number of those projects will be underway during the eclipse.
Arimo to McCammon Project:
½ complete No cross over situation during eclipse, two lanes in both directions
Inkom Bridge Project:
To begin after the eclipse
Sand Road to South of Blackfoot
To begin after eclipse
Blackfoot rest area to Bingham/Bonneville County line
Open and complete by eclipse day
Spencer to MT State line constructions
No eclipse day constructions Work during the day, open at night before and after eclipse
Burke said that all 120 District Six employees will work the day of the eclipse as incident response. They will be able to respond to road hazards and broken down vehicles. Each incident responder will have five gallons of water, jacks to do tire changes, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers.
ITD will also use four water trucks that carry 14,000 to 17,000 gallons of water the day of the eclipse. The trucks will be used to help put out small fires that might result from vehicles parked in the tall grass. ITD said it does plan on mowing roadside grass to reduce the risk.
Fifty portable toilets will be scattered along Eastern Idaho roadways and the rest stops will be fully stocked, Burke said.
Burke encouraged everyone to download the Interstate 15 or 511 app to stay up-to-date on traffic issues.
“Look at it all you want up until that day,” Burke joked.
IMPACT ON COMMUNICATIONS
Cell service during the eclipse is expected to be limited. Every expert in attendance at the Wednesday meeting expressed concerns about an overload on cell towers, resulting in a service interruption.
“Your cellphone will not work,” Idaho Falls Deputy Fire Chief Dave Coffey said. “We are working on ways to mitigate that.”
One of those ways is by bringing in a cell on wheels, also known as a COW. Coffey said county leaders are working with cell providers to arrange for that.
“Verizon has already said they have no plans,” Coffey told the crowd. AT&T said it is working to boost cell phone service in the area.
A COW is a mobile cell tower capable of providing fully functional service to areas of need.
Idaho Falls public information officer (PIO) Kerry Hammon addressed the crowd on staying informed during the eclipse.
“We will use our media partners to keep you updated,” Hammon said
Hammon is one of several PIO’s working to provide communication to the public about the eclipse, she told the crowd.
Hammon said the PIO’s are using a three-phase approach to communication. Phase one is over and included informing the public about the eclipse and that it was coming. Phase two, which Hammon said is currently being used, is to communicate about public safety. Phase three won’t kick in until the eclipse arrives and will focus on getting information out to the public.
Several resources are available for getting information on the eclipse, and eclipse planning (click each underlined bullet to be directed to that page):
Local News 8 & KIDK Eclipse Page: Complete coverage of the eclipse from KIFI and KIDK, link to eclipse path EIEclipse.com: News about the eclipse, lodging information, events and FAQ City of Idaho Falls NotifyMe: Sign up for emergency alerts from the City of Idaho delivered to your email City of Idaho Falls Code Red: Sign up for emergency alerts from the City of Idaho Falls delivered to your cell phone via text or call and landline Great American Eclipse: Everything you need to know about the eclipse from the experts
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said Idaho, specifically Idaho Falls, is the best spot to watch the eclipse for three main reasons:
Clear Skies: Historically, weather data shows that Idaho Falls has clear skies and a low chance of rain The view: Casper said the experts told her the east and west mountains and being in the Snake River Plain provide a perfect view of the sky Accommodation: According to Casper, the Interstate 15 corridor provides a number of resources, such as food, lodging, and medical services
Casper said her office has received calls from around the world from people planning on coming to town for the eclipse.
“We are doing everything we can (to prepare for the crowds). We can’t take a wait and see approach,” Casper said.
The view of the eclipse in Idaho Falls is expected to be so great, NASA has designated the Museum of Idaho as an official viewing site.
Casper issued a call to action to the public during the Wednesday meeting.
“It’s on all of us,” Casper said. “Each of you knows this community as well or better than me or other officials. Show that you care about your community. Be aware. Be ambassadors. Be welcoming.”