Preparing for an Eclipse emergency

(Source: Stock image/Pixabay)
(Source: Stock image/Pixabay)
Published: May. 23, 2017 at 1:20 AM CDT|Updated: May. 23, 2017 at 4:50 PM CDT
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(KFVS) - It's the biggest thing to happen around here in a long time.

Those are the thoughts of Union County Emergency Management Coordinator Dana Pearson when he talks about the August 21 solar eclipse.

Many people would say it's the best thing too. Tens of thousands of visitors will pour into our neck of the woods to get the best and longest view of the solar eclipse.

Trish Erzfeld with the Perry County Heritage Tourism notes that at two minutes and 40 seconds, the county has one of the longest viewing periods for this eclipse, which makes it an ideal destination.

Towns can't help but get excited about the exposure and economic boon.  All the attention has them sprucing up to impress their guests. If only it were that simple.

In Perry County, preparations started in November of 2015.  Across the heartland, towns are planning for the influx of thousands into relatively small communities with equally small transportation systems and medical services.

But the biggest challenge that day is likely going to be what no one can control....the heat and humidity.

"If you're from Canada, you're going to experience heat and humidity like you never have," Hank Voelker, Perry County's emergency director, said. "We'll have lots of cooling stations."

Perryville is planning four viewing sites: the city park, soccer fields, airport, and seminary. There will be cooling stations at each.

Besides the heat, cities must also consider traffic accidents, earthquake and yes even a terrorist attack.

"We are trained on what to watch for," Perryville Emergency Management Director Bill Jones said.

Dr. Michael Chipman told me the emergency room at Carbondale Memorial Hospital will be expanding that day and taking over same day surgery space to accommodate those overcome by heat and more.

"We have to look at the worst case scenarios," Dr. Chipman said.

Meanwhile, the hospital is running drills in preparation for all they may encounter on August 21.

The Union County Ambulance Service is hedging its bets that most folks will congregate in the northern part of the county, close to Makanda, where the duration of totality is the longest in southern Illinois.

Grant Capel, Union County's Ambulance Director has a plan, "We'll have our regular truck on duty, other workers will be in zones. People that are off that day, but volunteering to work, will be runners with backpacks to get to people."

The ambulance service is stocking up on IV and trauma supplies. Meanwhile, the county is readying things like extraction equipment.

That's Dana Pearson's job, "We're checking out county roads, looking for big openings where people will congregate."

And what about cell phone coverage, crucial to emergency responders, when all the Heartland, in all probability, will be on their phones?

Mike Maddox, Regional Coordinator for Medical Response Planning has asked that same question, "I've been assured it will be adequate. Our concerns are over all the live streaming. But even then, it will only last as long as the eclipse."

All of this work, all of this planning for an event that will last less than three minutes.

Bill Jones agreed but knows that preparation is the key to success.

"It will be a challenge, but we'll survive," Jones said with a laugh.

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