On August 21st, 2017, Teton Valley will “host” a total eclipse of the sun. This is a big deal! The moon will pass between the sun and the earth and totally block, or eclipse our view of the sun for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. the last total eclipse of the sun, visible from the U.S. was in 1979.
The “line of totality”, or the area in which the sun will be totally obscured by the moon, will pass directly over us between Driggs and Victor. Being on the line of totality has the potential to bring thousands of spectators and members of the scientific community to the valley.
Despite lasting only 2m 17s, the most hardy eclipse spectators are expected to arrive as much as 2 weeks in advance. Jackson, WY estimates they could get as many as 40,000 viewers, which they hope to divert from their already packed city over the hill to us. Planners who have worked many global eclipses in the past suggest that whatever your estimate is; double it and you’ll be close to actual attendance. The influx of eclipse spectators is affectionately called, “The Surge”.
This is something that is going to happen. We don’t need to invite them or advertise, they are just going to come. We need to get the word out to the community, the whole county; residents, businesses, emergency services, law enforcement, hospitals, and county organizations. We need to let everyone know what to expect, and what the county and cities are doing to prepare.
The Teton Valley News has kindly agreed to help us get the word out by running a series on the eclipse.
“Is this an invasion or an opportunity?”
So what does this mean for Teton Valley? For the sake of discussion, let’s use Jackson’s 40K estimate. We’ve never had an influx of 40,000 people into our valley before. What will we do with 40,000 people that need lodging, food, gas, cash, and bathroom facilities? Experience from previous eclipses tells us that some of our 40K guests will trickle in over the two weeks preceding the event possibly depleting our grocery stores, hardware stores, gas stations, and ATM’s and overloading our AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint cell service capacity. Then when we’re already in a bind, the main body of spectators (The Surge) will arrive, multiplying the challenges.
In the past, we’ve been able to reach out to Rexburg and/or Idaho Falls for assistance. This is not just a Teton Valley event. This is a regional event and everyone’s resources will be maxed out.
40,000 spectators visiting us is just a guess. Idaho Falls is expecting as many as 150,000 spectators. Casper estimates 500,000. Rexburg, Idaho Falls and Pocatello hotels and vacation rentals are already booked. Everything in the valley is booked.
County officials and local leaders are being proactive in preparing for this event and have been working to make sure the eclipse is a positive experience for residents, businesses, and visitors alike. The Mayors and Commissioner Leake have established a committee to plan for and identify risks and opportunities for a mass gathering of this magnitude. They have decided to make this an opportunity rather than an invasion. To act rather than be acted upon.
The objective is to identify what we have in place; our strengths and weaknesses and fill any gaps, and then be prepared to receive, manage and coordinate the departure of our guests, over an 18 day period.
The committee has taken a project management approach to planning for this event. Scheduled meetings are held and an action register has been developed. A sequence of critical activities has been established, critical partners have been identified and a budget has been set.
Subject matter experts have been identified to lead the committee’s efforts by developing plans for Emergency Management, Communications, Permitting, Public Works, Transportation, and Economic Impact.
The Emergency Management plan development will be led by Greg Adams, Teton County EMS Coordinator. Greg will collaborate with Law Enforcement, Fire, Ambulance and other agencies and organizations to evaluate our manpower and resource needs, as well as risks and associated mitigations. In addition Greg will assess the additional health, safety, environmental and security requirements inherent with the addition of thousands of visitors.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson
The Eclipse Communications Plan includes keeping the community informed by establishing communication to and from the public via all available elements of social media, call centers, Teton Valley News, community meetings and a robust system of informative maps provided by Rob Marin, our County GIS Coordinator.
We are all in this together. It's probably safe to say that everyone in the valley will be impacted by the eclipse either directly or indirectly. We will need to work together.
At community meetings we will discuss things we can do to be prepared such as:
- We need to be prepared for heavy bike traffic. Eclipse “chasers” who know that roads will be congested will bring their bikes. We’ll need additional bike racks for parking.
- Restaurants will not be able to handle the crowds. They can be prepared by adding additional staff, increasing inventory and limiting menus to a few items to get customers in and out quicker
- Grocery stores can be prepared by having refrigerated trucks standing by with critical items like food, water, toilet paper and beer
- Feeding the surge will be a challenge. The community can be prepared by having additional catering services ramped up and prepared to feed the masses as well as event volunteers and EMS personnel
- Hospitals can be prepared by adjusting schedules so staff personnel are available to handle the heavier than normal walk-in and emergency case load. We may need additional doctors and nurses.
- Banks should be prepared with extra cash to load and reload ATM’s. They also need to be prepared to handle foreign currency exchange.
- Gas stations should have additional tank trucks on hire to handle the increased gas demand.
- We will need temporary housing, not for spectators but for outside volunteers and service providers.
- No road construction/repairs should be scheduled. Truck traffic should be kept to a minimum.
- A burn ban should be in place regardless of the fire conditions. Grass along roads and paths and parking areas should be cut to reduce exposure to vehicle exhaust related fires.
- Private business such as hardware stores can stock up on water, water containers, tarps, emergency generators and camping equipment.
- Residents should stock up on essentials and be prepared to “shelter in place”!
- Residents hosting gatherings should look into the permitting process and take a look at their homeowners insurance policy to ensure they have sufficient coverage.
These are just a few examples. The purpose is to get us all thinking proactively rather than reactively.
“No job is finished ‘till the paperwork is done…”
As usual the “devil is in the details” and planning for the eclipse is no exception. Permitting has emerged as a detailed and critical component and Kristin Owen, our Teton County Planner has stepped forward to coordinate our Permitting Plan. The County and City Planners are working together to identify the efficacy of our current permitting system for such an event. Their focus is to establish a robust permitting process for camping, parking, and food service concessions, to ensure safety, health and environmental concerns are met as well as plan for the allocation of emergency services and to develop a “one stop shopping”, user friendly permitting process.
What is Public Works? Short answer: just about everything! Thankfully Darryl Johnson our Teton County Director of Public Works, in partnership with city managers and RAD, has kindly offered to guide us through the minefield of solid waste, wastewater, signage and utilities. Darryl and his team will work closely with Kristin Owen and her team on meeting the expectations of the permitting process. Fortunately their offices are almost next door to each other!
An extremely important part of our planning concerns how we coordinate traffic, transportation and parking for an event of this size. How will we manage thousands of visitors on Hwy 33? Where will they all park? How will we avoid traffic jams and county wide gridlock? How will we manage law enforcement and emergency response vehicle access? Will we have enough gas? What about towing services? And don’t forget the airport and additional aviation related traffic. These and other questions will be addressed by our Driggs Community Development Director, Doug Self.
TREC Executive Director, Brian McDermott is helping us determine the economic impact this event has on our valley. Partnering with the Idaho Department of Labor and BYU - Idaho, Brian is helping us estimate, in advance, the target number of possible visitors we should plan for. Post event Brian will help us evaluate what economic effect (good or bad) the eclipse had on our cities and the county and it will be posted here. In addition, Brian and Alli Kadler, TREC Manager, are coordinating all planned events (when, where, who) scheduled in the valley during this period to help avoid conflicts and overlapping events.
“Responsibility + Authority = Accountability”
To make sure this all goes according to plan, Commissioner Leake and Mayors Hoops, Johnson and Potter are vetting the process regularly and providing additional support and guidance as necessary. It is their objective to manage this sizable project as an “event”, not an eclipse. The learnings from which will help them understand what we did that was effective, what we did that we could have improved on and what we didn’t do that we should have done. In the long term this event will help us as individual cities and the county to work across jurisdictional lines and coordinate/collaborate for the betterment of the greater community.
Residents and visitors looking for information regarding county and city plans for the eclipse are encourage to call: 208-557-3540,
or visit the eclipse website: tetonvalleyeclipse.com
or the eclipse Facebook page: @tetonvalleyeclipse
or tweet us at https://twitter.com/EclipseTeton