Just as the number of people projected to visit eastern Idaho during the Great Solar Eclipse is unprecedented for the region, so is the strain local public service agencies likely will feel.
Idaho Falls Fire Department Chief Dave Hanneman has been told to expect 300,000 to 500,000 visitors during the eclipse weekend, far more than the region’s next-largest event: Idaho Falls’ Fourth of July celebration, which draws about 100,000 people annually.
“NASA and astronomers have warned us. They said ‘For every one person you think is coming, multiply it by five,’” Hanneman said.
Idaho Falls began working in January with other cities and counties in the region to coordinate emergency planning and response for the eclipse. The coordination region spans eight counties.
Hanneman said the group likely will have an eclipse weekend plan worked out by June. He expects the Idaho Office of Emergency Management to visit eastern Idaho and exercise the plan in July.
The coordinated approach to eclipse crowd management allows local agencies to leverage resources for an event that will likely be too large for any of them to handle on their own.
“Based upon intelligence coming in, when you think about us quadrupling our population for that weekend, we still only have so many resources,” Hanneman said.
It’s difficult for agencies to determine where eclipse-viewers will gather, though a few likely focal points have been identified.
Some will view the eclipse from the Menan Buttes or Mount Borah. Some Jefferson County landowners will rent out their properties to campers, and several Idaho Falls parks will become campsites.
Events, including a concert at Sandy Downs, a festival in Arco and a bike race in Teton County, will also draw visitors and cause congestion.
“We have a lot of public health concerns, but one of the main concerns is access to people. If you have so many people on the streets and everything is blocked up, our police officers, ambulances and firefighters can’t get to emergencies very quickly,” Hanneman said.
Though the influx of people likely will be somewhat gradual over the eclipse’s preceding weekend, Hanneman is worried about the aftermath.
“If everyone wants to leave right after the eclipse, how do we coordinate that?” he said.
Agencies will work with Idaho State Police and the Idaho Transportation Department regarding highway-related issues. The Office of Emergency Management also will deploy resources if necessary.
Hanneman advises visitors and locals alike to prepare for eclipse weekend, and be patient while it’s happening.
“Have your own personal supplies you need ahead of time: medications, plenty of water, gas. Then when it’s time to go somewhere, plan ahead. It might take hours to get to your destination,” Hanneman said.
Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.