County officials are already planning for a total eclipse happening April 8, 2024. All of Union County will experience between two and four minutes of total darkness between 3 p.m. and 3:10 p.m. The last time Ohio had a total eclipse was in 1806. After the 2024 event it will be more than 400 years before it happens again in 2444. (Photo submitted)
Local officials are planning for an event more than two years away.
Last week, the Union County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), along with representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations gathered to talk about what is being dubbed as the Great American Eclipse.
On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross America, sweeping northeast from Texas to Maine. Ohio is directly in the path of totality — the area where the total sun will be eclipsed. The last time a total eclipse was visible in Ohio was 1806.
“I think this can be an exciting event, but we need to start planning now,” said Brad Gilbert, director of the Union County EMA.
He said the meeting was the first of many and few specifics were discussed. He said the point was to get information out and have officials start to think about the planning process.
The eclipse will enter Ohio near Greenville around 3 p.m. and will exit near Avon Lake around 3:10 p.m.
Nine Ohio counties, including Hardin, intersect with the center line of totality, which will have the longest period of total darkness. Union is one of 35 Ohio counties entirely within the area of totality, meaning the entire county will be dark. Depending on their position to the center line, communities could have between two and four minutes of darkness.
The Ohio EMA says areas on the center line could see their population triple or even quadruple and the population in other totality communities could double, noting that Ohio is within a one-day drive of 70% of the U.S. population.
“Union County could see very high influx of visitors to view the eclipse,” Gilbert said.
He explained that Hardin County, “will be one of the most prime locations for viewing.”
The Ohio EMA has said the county should even prepare for things like local eclipse festivals and viewing parties where out of town visitors could camp for days.
County officials need to prepare for additional law enforcement and public works support to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the additional people.
Gilbert said that while the local population could soar with visitors, there could also be a lot of additional traffic as visitors drive through to other prime areas. Those extra vehicles cause delays as well as demands on public safety officials and infrastructure.
He stressed that an event like this, “brings both opportunities and challenges, but planning needs to begin now.”
Gilbert said that even if residents don’t care about the eclipse, they will be impacted. He said traffic could impact travel times for several days, increased shoppers could create barren store shelves for several days, more vehicles could create a shortage of gas, parks will likely have additional visitors, hotel rooms will be difficult to reserve, wait time at restaurants and other attractions could be longer. He said even internet and cell service could be impacted, explaining that service capacity for those is based on population. He said a surge like this could overwhelm the system causing it to crash.
Gilbert said all of these concerns can be mitigated, but it takes some planning. He said traffic control devices can be changed to improve traffic flow, stores can be notified, campsites can be identified ahead of time. He even said the county can rent additional, portable cell towers, but they need secured soon.
“We want to make sure we can lock in resources now, because we are not the only ones who will be competing for those resources,” Gilbert said. “If we have to go outside the normal channels to get some of those resources we have to do that, but that takes time.”
Gilbert said it is important to include a variety of organizations and agencies because the event is unusual and could impact so many parts of the community. Gilbert said a similar event in 2017 brought more than 600 planes to a local airport in Oregon.
“I never would have thought of that,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know if we would get that, but we need to tell people it is a possibility and we need to be prepared.”
Gilbert said even the timing of the eclipse could pose issues. He said schools let out and many shifts change about 3 p.m.
“What do we do with that?” Gilbert asked.
He said he knows there is more than two years, but the last two years have shown officials that sometimes more pressing needs get in the way of long-term planning.
Gilbert said the group will get together again in mid-January 2022. He asked participants to think about what role they believe their organization should have in planning and to talk to their partner organizations.
“Time goes fast,” Gilbert said. “We need to get ahead of this.”