Lt. Stewart Anderson: Eclipse Event Will Require Major Planning
Space is the final frontier for Star Trek.
But the space in and around Casper will be a new frontier for handling the tens of thousands of spectators expected to travel here in August 2017 for the total eclipse of the sun.
"The good news is that it's not happening next week, or whatever, so we have still quite a bit of time to plan for, and adjust," said Lt. Stewart Anderson of Natrona County Emergency Management.
Casper is one of the few cities in the nation that will experience the total eclipse. The last time the path of a solar eclipse crossed any part of the United States was in 1991 when it passed over Hawaii.
The city will celebrate the event with a four-day Eclipse Fest starting Aug. 17 through the event itself for 2 minutes and 26 seconds mid-morning of Aug. 21.
Anderson said this will require coordination of transportation, traffic, emergency services, food, camping and housing, venues and other infrastructure matters.
Casper already hosts major events including sports tournaments, the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo, and the College Nationals Final Rodeo. But those events have happened for years, so there is a routine for planning. The eclipse is a one-time event with different challenges, and no opportunity for a dress rehearsal.
"The main thing we're concentrating on, from my point of view, is the traffic; the call volume going up for our normal, our routine type of calls," Anderson said.
For example, calls may increase because people who come from lower elevations may encounter altitude sickness or heat problems.
Increased traffic will involve the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the City of Casper's Public Works Department, Anderson said.
The city and Natrona County will need to set up primary viewing areas so emergency routes can go around them, he said.
"Instead of people having to pick their own areas, they can go to optimum areas to get good pictures or get good views," Anderson said. "You then have consolidated the traffic issues."
If there's a camping facility, he wondered if it will offer transportation so people don't have to drive to an event. People may want to drive their own vehicles to a viewing area, but they will expect traffic delays.
"It's an all-encompassing thing, such as giving or updating live reports on a website on which routes are blocked, which routes are open," he said.
The need for services for the visitors comes on top of the usual law enforcement, fire and medical calls within the community. August also is the height of fire season.
Local agencies may need to bring in outside resources, too, Anderson said.
But it won't be as easy for the eclipse as it would be for an event such as a fire when one county can call on another county for help, he said.
Those other counties will need their resources for their own eclipse events. The path of the total eclipse will start in Teton County and move through Fremont, Natrona, Converse, Platte and Goshen counties. Neighboring counties will be in the shadow of the eclipse.
On the other hand, the sparse population and low light pollution along the path outside the Casper area and in neighboring counties may draw people away from Casper and lessen the need for outside resources.