Emergency officials preparing for Great Solar Eclipse

It’s now less than two weeks before the Great Solar Eclipse will be visible in Nebraska. Emergency officials are preparing for multiple scenarios that could happen once the sun goes dark.

Capt. Lance Rogers, with Nebraska State Patrol, said Troop H in Lincoln is prepared for heavy traffic on Interstate 80 and Highway 77, as thousands of people are expected to head to Beatrice, which is in the path of totality.

“Our main concern is obviously we don’t want any crashes,” Rogers said. “We don’t want people, you know, stopping for the eclipse of the side of the road.”

The NSP and state agencies have been planning for the eclipse for a year and said they’re ready for multiple scenarios.

“We treat it just like we do for a lot of major events,” Rogers said. “We’re fortunate enough that we have Husker football (games on) seven Saturdays every fall, and so we bring in 100,000 people in the city of Lincoln area. This is anticipated to be a larger event.”

The eclipse is expected to bring 500,000 visitors to the Cornhusker State on Aug. 21. Through a grant from the Department of Transportation, NSP troopers will be working overtime on the road and in the sky.

“We’ll have aircraft in the area to monitor the event and let us know if there’s any backups, if there’s any areas where we need to put extra resources in to keep the traffic flowing,” Rogers said.

Troopers will work to make sure I-80 and highways stay clear and open. Rogers said they don’t want people parking on the side of the road, slowing down or getting out of their vehicle.

“Just drive defensively and be smart,” Rogers said. “You always buckle up, you never drive impaired and you never drive distracted.”

Rogers also said drivers should be prepared for delays before and after the eclipse takes place.

At the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency’s emergency operations center in Lincoln, around 20 officials from state agencies will be on alert and ready to deploy resources anywhere across the state at a moment’s notice.

“We’ve tried to really think or anticipate all the issues that might occur, so the respective state agencies in this room are going to coordinate the requests,” NEMA assistant director Bryan Tuma said.

Tuma said the watch center at NEMA will also be functional that Monday, evaluating information as it comes in from across the state and sharing situational awareness with the emergency operations center and other local jurisdictions.

“The idea is to put together a full staff,” Tuma said. “All the agencies of state government under the governor’s direct control will be fulfilling roles and responsibilities here in the emergency operations center on the day of the event.”

Public information officers who work for each state agency will also be on hand, working in NEMA’s joint information center. The public information officers will be monitoring social media and assessing information as it comes in from across the state. They will issue public service announcements as they become necessary.

Tuma said there are obvious concerns like traffic and lodging, but they’re also prepared for shortages of gasoline, food and other essentials.

“It could be that we’ll have enough folks in one area that they could essentially overwhelm the cellular service in that area,” Tuma said.

Planning for the eclipse is new territory for both NSP and NEMA, as it’s the first time this has happened in a century.

“Usually most of the events that we work around are unplanned events, they’re disasters of some type,” Tuma said. “It’s going to be a busy day, but we think it can be a very safe day too.”

NSP troopers will be on duty all across the state on Aug. 21, with the eclipse entering Western Nebraska around 11:45 a.m. MT and exiting Nebraska near Falls City just after 1 p.m. CST.

Tuma said NEMA’s emergency operations center will be functional from around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day of the eclipse. State agencies will report to the center as necessary on the weekend before the event, as visitors start to arrive in Nebraska.

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9 August 2017 11:03 pm
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