Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017

Idaho Falls prepares for the eclipse

Hundreds of people from across eastern Idaho crowded into the Civic Auditorium on Wednesday night to learn more about Idaho Falls’ plans for the upcoming eclipse.

The presentation included details about safety, business and health concerns and a scientific explanation of the Aug. 21 eclipse.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said her office had received calls from across the world, including Australia, Europe, Canada and tour companies in Asia.

“This community has never experienced a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event of this magnitude,” Casper said.

The mayor was told by a NASA expert to expect five times as many people they would normally expect for a large tourist attraction. Casper acknowledged she had heard skepticism of the city’s prediction that more than 500,000 people may attend, but said the city had to be prepared.

“We would rather do everything we can to prepare than to take a wait-and-see approach,” Casper said. “We cannot afford to be wrong. Not to plan is to gamble with public safety.”

The Snake River Valley was listed as one of the top 10 places to view the total eclipse, according to, a website that informs the public of upcoming eclipses.

Casper said Idaho Falls was ideal because it has historically clear weather in August. It has few tall objects that might obscure the totality. It also has several roads and resources to manage the influx of people, and as well as affordable food and adequate housing accommodations.

With so many people coming from across the world, Casper encouraged residents to help them find their way around, especially people facing language barriers.

“I would hope that being prepared and knowing that, we’ll all be able to reach inside our hearts and pull out our compassion and help people who might be struggling because of a language barrier, instead of being grouchy that they can’t speak English,” Casper said.

What’s the big deal?

Brigham Young University-Idaho physics professor Brian Tonks gave an explanation of what solar eclipses are. He said eclipses happen once or twice a year, but typically in inhospitable areas.

The last eclipse to touch the lower 48 states was in 1991, and the last one to hit Idaho happened in 1979.

The totality will last for 2 minutes and 20 seconds at most, depending on the viewer’s location.

Special glasses are required to safely view the eclipse until it reaches totality.

Tonks encouraged viewers not to take pictures.

“There’s no camera that can possibly capture the details that your eye can capture,” he said. “If you’ve never seen an eclipse before, the recommendation of all the experts I’ve read is to just enjoy the experience.”

For those who do wish to photograph the eclipse, Alan Dyer, an astrophotographer specializing in nightscapes, timelapses, and solar eclipses, offers the following tips on his website

“You will need a safe solar filter over your lens or telescope to shoot the partial phases of the eclipse, and to frame and focus the Sun. This cannot be a photo neutral density or polarizing filter. It must be a filter designed for observing and shooting the Sun, made of metal-coated glass or Mylar plastic. Anything else is not safe and likely far too bright.

“But you do NOT need the filter for totality.”

Public Safety

Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride and Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde said all hands will be on deck during the eclipse weekend, with officers working 12-hour shifts from Friday to Tuesday.

McBride said residents should expect delayed response times due to the increased traffic.

“It’s hard to create a traffic plan when you don’t know where everybody’s going to be going, and so this is going to be a difficult pass for all of us,” McBride said.

Wilde said the Sheriff’s office is preparing for extra calls, but does not expect an influx of crime. Law enforcement is coordinating with EMS and the fire department to respond to calls.

“It’s going to happen with or without us, so we might as well jump in,” Wilde said.

Both law enforcement officials encouraged people to stock up on food, water and gas before the eclipse and be aware of their surroundings.

Dave Coffey, deputy chief of operations for the Idaho Falls Fire Department, is working as the incident commander for Bonneville County during the eclipse. He said emergency calls will have to be prioritized.

“Currently, in our community you enjoy an EMS service that, whether you call with a bloody nose or cardiac arrest, you get an ambulance,” Coffey said.

During the eclipse rush, emergency responders will have to decide what calls need a response first.

Phone and internet service also is expected to slow due to increased data usage.

Infrastructure and preparation

Ben Burke, the District 6 traffic engineer of the Idaho Transportation Department, said 50 porta-potties would be placed along Interstate 15 for travelers on the day of the eclipse.

The Transportation Department will have its own incident response team with all 120 District 6 employees equipped with first-aid kits, car repair equipment, fire extinguishers and water bottles to prevent dehydration.

Coffey said cellphone service will be constrained by the number of visitors. AT&T is planning to boost service during the eclipse, but Verizon stated it has no such plans. Coffey said the county is looking to bring in mobile cellphone tower to help the situation.

Chris Frederickson, Idaho Falls director of Public Works, said the waste water plant can handle 17 million gallons a day, and typically has to process half of that. Much of that is industrial flow, so Frederickson said the city would be able to handle the waste influx from the event attendees.

Frederickson asked residents not to flush trash.

“Our sewer systems are not means for getting rid of trash,” Frederickson said. “If we have any debris that clogs up those systems, they can’t function appropriately, and so we want to make sure everybody utilizes those facilities for what they’re meant for.”

Jackie Flowers, Idaho Falls Power general manager, said power outages were not expected from increased use during the eclipse. Power outages may be caused by fallen power lines from car accidents or squirrels.

“If you could help me out with the squirrels, that’s our number one cause of outages,” she said.

Casper said that while essential services would be busy during the eclipse, nonessential service employees would have time off.

“Regular office work probably will not be happening with any consistency on that day,” Casper said. “We wanted to give people the option to either have this experience with their families or be off the roads.”

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746

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Source: Solar Eclipse 2017

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