Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
With just a few weeks until the Great American Eclipse, Macon County Emergency Management is falling in line with emergency services across the country trying to prepare residents for an influx of visitors predicted to flock to the area for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The upcoming solar eclipse—the first in 99 years to sweep across the continental United States—has so many fans that disaster-level preparations are being put in place because of the large number of travelers predicted to jockey for prime viewing spots. As many as 7.4 million people are expected to pack into a 70-mile-wide band across the U.S. to watch as the moon’s umbra blocks out the sun for a two-minute window on Aug. 21, according to solar eclipse education website GreatAmericanEclipse.com.
Macon County Emergency Management is working with local, state, federal and a host of other agencies to ensure that Macon County residents and visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience during the solar eclipse.
Macon County, North Carolina, is among a group of areas in a swath across the United States that will experience a few minutes of total darkness during the day at approximately 2:30 p.m. Although many areas will experience some effects from the eclipse, very few will experience total darkness, also known as totality. Franklin is among the few cities in the entire country that will experience complete darkness during the event.
Exact numbers of visitors are very difficult to estimate, but officials are planning for an influx of visitors into the area for several days prior to and following the event. All of those visitors are expected to clog the highways, along with local roads, for days before and after the eclipse, much like the rush during emergency evacuations.
Cellular service towers aren’t meant to handle the capacity of an additional half-million to a million people per state. Cellphone, GPS and smartphone internet services will likely be nonexistent near the eclipse zone.
The Red Cross is preparing hundreds of emergency shelters in the 12 states that will be touched by the eclipse in case of other emergencies that could occur while millions of travelers are away from home.
In Columbia, S.C., the city’s main museum has bought 5,000 bottles of water for thirsty eclipse viewers, and the city government plans to send out trucks to frequently refill planned water stations.
Macon County Public Health Department’s Environmental Health Section has seen an increase of applications for Temporary Food Event permits for the weekend of Aug. 18 – Aug. 21st. The upcoming solar eclipse is drawing food vendors from surrounding areas in anticipation of the expected crowds to this area.
The Health Department wants to encourage all residents and visitors to stay safe, and prior to choosing a food establishment, make sure they have a valid permit on display. Through the permitting process, the Health Department’s Environmental Health Specialists check these establishment’s food sources. They also are checking for proper food storage, food handling techniques, management of the prepared food items, and to ensure they have a source for disposal of food waste after the event.
A Temporary Food Event permit is required by state statute ([15AN.C.A.C.18A.2665(d)]) in order to serve food to the public for profit. N.C. requires that an establishment submit an application for a Temporary Food Event Permit 15 calendar days prior to the event. Events beginning Aug. 18 must apply by Aug. 3, by 5 p.m., and events beginning Aug. 21, must apply by Aug. 6, by 5 p.m.
Preparations in Macon County haven’t quite reached the level of its neighbors in the region, but Macon County Emergency Management does want residents to be prepared.
Suggestions for navigating the eclipse:
– Be prepared for crowds, lines and traffic. Areas around construction zones in east Franklin and intersections in downtown Highlands are expected to be especially congested. Allow extra time for travel.
– Have snacks, water and first-aid supplies on hand in case crowds/lines/traffic becomes significant while you are traveling.
– Be aware of the hazards of the area especially this time of year including steep and winding rural roads, heavy and slow moving traffic, severe thunderstorms, and trip and fall hazards particularly around waterfalls and other trail areas.
– Have an emergency kit and emergency plan; make sure family members or friends know your schedule, when you are expected to return, and your plan if something happens.
Suggestions for businesses and employers:
– Prepare for a larger than normal influx of customers. Goods should be ordered and staffing adjusted accordingly.
– Be aware that some visitors unfamiliar with the area may be in authorized and unauthorized areas.
– Encourage your employees to be prepared with full fuel tanks and other necessary supplies to avoid long lines and other delays that could occur should the influx of visitors be significant.
– Talk to suppliers, particularly those out of the local area, that may not anticipate the event. Some deliveries might need to be adjusted accordingly.
With little information available except estimates for potential visitors and no event in recent history comparable on which to base any estimates, Macon County Emergency Management recommends treating this event as a significant travel holiday event and will continue to monitor the event as it draws near providing information as it becomes available and update plans as necessary.
Important information such as viewing safety can be found at http://eclipse2017.nasa.gov