Preparedness & Recovery

Wyoming Emergency Responders Prepare for Solar Eclipse Crowds

The rare chance to view a total solar eclipse from the United States is expected to draw thousands to hundreds of thousands of people to the state.

by Becky Orr, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne / June 12, 2017
The so-called supermoon rises during a total lunar eclipse on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015 in Cheyenne, Wyo. It was the first time the events have made a twin appearance since 1982, and they won't again until 2033. AP/Blaine McCartney

(TNS) - Emergency response agencies throughout Laramie County, Wyo., are preparing for an influx of visitors who want to experience a total solar eclipse this August in central Wyoming.

The rare chance to view a total solar eclipse from the United States is expected to draw thousands to hundreds of thousands of people to the state.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking out the sun’s rays. When that happens, day turns to night for a few moments.

In Casper, the eclipse will start at 11:43 a.m. Aug. 21, with the period of darkness lasting 2 minutes, 26 seconds.

The path of this year’s eclipse will cut a wide arc across much of the United States, moving west to east from coast to coast. In Wyoming, the total phase of the eclipse, called the path of totality, will cross the middle section of the state.

Those who want to see a total solar eclipse had better do so this year. It won’t be seen again in Wyoming until May 3, 2106, and again June 25, 2169.

The Laramie County Emergency Management Agency is coordinating local response efforts to deal with the surge of visitors expected here. It has sponsored several meetings with people from similar groups during the last few months. Among those attending these meetings include representatives from the American Medical Response ambulance service, firefighters, law enforcement agencies and other first-responders.

They are figuring out ways to deal with the large number of people expected to come through Cheyenne on their way to where the eclipse will cause complete darkness.

It’s impossible to know how many people will pass through Cheyenne in the few days before the eclipse, said Jeanene West, a trainer with Laramie County Emergency Management. Some people have estimated as many as 250,000 to 300,000 people could pass through here on their way to Casper or other places in the state.

One sign people are coming is that rooms at most all hotels and motels in Cheyenne are sold out for the days around the time of the eclipse. State officials and business people hope the eclipse will bring visitors to Wyoming and strengthen its tourism market.

Emergency planners want everything to go as smoothly as possible, West said, adding they are planning for the worst that could happen and hoping for the best. For example, they want to make sure the communication system for first-responders works well, as thousands of visitors are likely to use cellphones to send images of the eclipse.

Laramie County Emergency Management also will publish information for area residents about the eclipse, including reminding people to stock up on supplies like food and gasoline before crowds arrive, West said.

The agency also will help nearby Albany, Goshen and Platte counties. Officials expect thousands of people to congregate there because these counties are in or near the path of totality.

John Kelley of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department said his agency will buy a limited number of eclipse glasses for local residents. He will distribute them at events like Super Day, Fridays on the Plaza and Cheyenne Frontier Days. People must wear protective eyewear because they will damage their eyes if they look directly at the eclipse.

Candis Pickard, emergency management coordinator at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said the hospital is getting ready too.

She predicts slowdowns on the area’s highways and interstates because of increased traffic.

“These things may never occur. But we’ve got to be prepared,” West said.

A lot of people ask Pickard why the eclipse is such a big deal, given that the city deals with crowds every year at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“But Frontier Days is spread out over as much as three weeks of activities,” Pickard said. “In this case, we’ve got a large amount of people coming in a very short period of time, and then they are all going to leave at the same time. So that is the impact.”

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center employees will bring a mobile command center to the hospital for the eclipse. “We’ll pull our incident command team together on Friday morning, Aug. 18,” she said. The incident command center will be set up Aug. 20 at the hospital.

The hospital also has a stockpile of supplies for emergencies, including extra bandages and IV fluids that it can use.

In addition to handing out eyeglasses, the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department will help in other areas, too. The department wants to make sure food truck operators are properly licensed. These operators may come from Colorado and not be properly inspected for food quality and cleanliness, he said.

City-County Health also will watch for signs of illegal dumping of black water from the tanks of recreational vehicles. The health department wants to make sure drivers use designated dump sites in the county, Kelley said.

The planning that has gone on is not a waste of time, he said.

“It might be much ado about nothing, but it’s better to over-plan.”

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