Communities, Agencies Ready For Safe Solar Eclipse Experience

Are you prepared for the Monday, April 8 solar eclipse? Area first responders and agencies have safety plans in place to deal with traffic and other emergencies, but recommend that the public plan ahead to make the most of the experience. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OHIO DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

BY KRISTI FISH and KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTERS — Remember Y2K – when the world panicked because computers might crash and power could go out at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999?

Waterville Fire Chief Doug Meyer was a senior in high school, but he remembers the wild predictions of massive power outages as he and other first responders now prepare for another once-in-a-lifetime event: the total eclipse of the sun on Monday, April 8.

“People are hyping it up, but we’re not panicking – we’re preparing,” Meyer said.

All along the 124-mile-wide path of totality in Ohio, those in charge of safety are getting ready for an influx of 150,000 to 575,000 people. Just how many come to Lucas County will probably depend on the weather, but Maumee Police Chief Josh Sprow said he expects all area hotels to be full.

“If it’s overcast, then the population could shift to better viewing areas or bring a lot more people here if it’s overcast elsewhere,” said Sprow, who has extra officers assigned to deal with potential traffic issues.

From extra officers and paramedics on duty to detailed incident action plans, the idea is to prepare for the most statistically likely things that could go wrong, such as heavy traffic and car crashes, Meyer said.

“We’re also prepared for multiple medical incidents, because as the population goes up, injury and illness go up,” he said. “There might be animals running in the dark. People might be looking up while driving or pulling off the side of the road to get a look. If it’s a nice day out, kids might be out riding their bikes. You just need to watch out.”

For the public, the key is to “pack your patience and fill your tank,” said Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA) regional operations chief Sean Miller.

The EMA, along with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSP) have been planning for the eclipse for more than a year, and rolled out details on how these agencies are preparing – and how members of the public can be prepared as well.

Miller recommends having a preparedness kit in the car with a cell phone charger, snacks and water in case of a traffic jam. If there is cellular congestion, make plans with family to text or use Facebook, X and other social media platforms to communicate rather than a voice call, because they use less data, he recommended.

“We’ve worked with cellular companies on where some of the anticipated crowds might be, so they’re aware of where their networks might be hit the hardest,” Miller said. “In rural areas, in particular, where there isn’t a whole lot of coverage to begin with, those areas could be of particular congestion, so we’re asking the public to make sure they have multiple means of communicating with friends and family.”

Leave plenty of time for travel – arriving early and leaving late to and from your destination, Miller advised. 

“Right after the eclipse, there’s the idea that a lot of folks will leave immediately at the same time,” he said. “Ohio has a lot of attractions, shops and great restaurants, so stay and enjoy the experience.”

Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ryan Purpura said drivers should expect extra traffic on the road in the days leading up to and after the eclipse. 

“Have patience when you’re on the roadways. We want this to be a memorable experience for everyone,” Purpura said. 

Troopers will be out on the road and highly visible in high-traffic areas, on interstates and on state routes, discouraging motorists from making impromptu stops on the side of the road and making sure everyone is safe, he said.

Safety and keeping traffic flowing is a priority for ODOT as well, said public information officer Rhonda Pees. 

Work in established construction zones will be limited, and no new projects will be started until after the eclipse is over. Rest areas will be stocked to prepare for an influx of visitors. ODOT will also have small patrols monitoring busy areas in vehicles equipped with extra emergency gear, such as road flares, tow straps and battery cable jumpers to help disabled vehicles get back on the road again. Additionally, ODOT signal electricians will be on call to change traffic signal timing to alleviate backups, such as on signalized ramps.

“To prepare for traffic, we are going to start patrolling the highways on the Friday before. We’re going to put a small patrol out to see what is coming into the area. We expect, because this is on a Monday, that people will take the weekend to come into our area,” Pees said. “Along with the patrols, on the day of the eclipse, we will start working in shifts beginning that morning.”

In talking with emergency planners in others states that have had total solar eclipses, Pees said she heard that backups on main routes lasted up to 17 hours and on secondary routes up to 15 hours.

“With Northwest Ohio’s pretty good grid system of roads, we think we will be in a better position than those states, but we want to be prepared,” she said.

With April being the start of the severe weather season, Miller also recommends making sure cell phones are set up for weather warnings like tornados.

“Compatible cell phones already have that, so if you’ve received an Amber Alert or tornado warning in the past, that means you already have that,” he said.

Many area communities – including Maumee, Waterville and Whitehouse – are planning solar eclipse events. For those just looking for an open space, rule out Monclova Township’s parks and cemeteries. Township administrator Harold Grim said these would be closed to prevent overnight camping beginning on Sunday, April 7. But the township’s fire chief, Matthew Homik, said they’re still prepared with extra staffing, knowing that an influx in the population might lead to additional incidents.

For those who will be driving around before, during and after the eclipse, Waterville Police Chief Joe Valvano offered some suggestions:

• Plan where you will be going and your exact route, then arrive early. 

• Keep in mind that visibility during totality will be limited and traffic congestion and distracted drivers could pose risks.

• Use your headlights to increase visibility to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

• Don’t stop on the road. Sudden stops can cause rear-end collisions and traffic congestion. Find a safe location like a parking lot to pull over.

• Be vigilant for pedestrians and cyclists.

• Limit distractions inside your vehicle, such as cell phones and the radio.

• Be aware of changing weather conditions and road conditions.

• If driving in rural areas with fewer streetlights, watch out for wildlife that may become more active during low-light conditions.

• Listen to local traffic reports to find out about road closures and traffic delays.

• Have patience, as congestion and delays are common during significant events.

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