I-TEAM: Safety and security preparations ahead of 2024 eclipse

Published: Aug. 10, 2023 at 10:04 PM CDT
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NORTHEAST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KAIT) - While many people are searching for the perfect spot to view the 2024 solar eclipse, emergency management teams are looking at the phenomenon through a different lens.

The eclipse will last around three to four minutes in this area. That’s about how long it takes to unload a dishwasher or read a bedtime story.

During that same amount of time, in April of 2024, thousands of eyes will be looking to the sky to view the eclipse. Outside of that short time of viewing, safety and security are vital for areas that expect an influx of visitors.

For more than a year, first responders across the state have been preparing for the 2024 total solar eclipse.

The path of the eclipse goes right through most of Region 8.

“I think I can safely guarantee that Greene County and Craighead County and everywhere in Region 8 that is in the path of totality will see an influx in visitors,” said Erik Wright, director of the Greene County Office of Emergency Management.

Area OEMs like Wright are working with FEMA to prepare plans, but it’s a toss-up of where most people will go.

“People will come to Arkansas, we just don’t know exactly where,” Wright said.

He has spoken with other OEM directors who experienced eclipse crowds in 2017. Their input is helping his plans to make next year’s eclipse smooth for residents and visitors.

“Logistically, they had issues with immense amounts of traffic from Denver coming into their area,” he said. “Things you would not think about, there were no restrooms for people to use.”

While the eclipse is scheduled for next April, several factors will need to be considered. These include the weather conditions, whether schools will be in session, and the fact that the eclipse will occur in the middle of the day. All of these factors could contribute to potential safety risks.

During a total solar eclipse, the sky turns dark, like it would around dusk—a very different scene than a normal Monday around 2 p.m.

“What are we capable of handling? What might be the rise in calls or happenings or what may be the biggest problem that we incur?” These are some of the questions Anthony Coy, director of the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management, is hoping to answer.

Craighead County agencies are planning various ways to communicate and increase their staffing.

“Number one, making sure our responders can communicate with one another,” said Coy, “Sometimes that might have to be on a channel that they don’t usually operate on due to a higher capacity of calls.”

While he expects traffic delays, Coy said every county will experience something different.

“It’s going to vary from county to county. In Craighead County, our planning efforts are mostly on traffic management,” he said.