Local officials making plans for solar eclipse
On Thursday, June 29, representatives of a number of emergency service organizations in Union County came together to devise a plan for the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse and providing their services to all of the visitors expected to appear for the event.
Transport and housing of patients and communication between emergency services appeared to be key issues which were discussed at the meeting, which was held at Union County Hospital in Anna.
Union County has been designated as one of the longest points of duration along the eclipse’s path of totality, meaning that total darkness is expected to occur longer here than almost anywhere else in the United States.
NASA’s website indicated that the greatest length of duration will fall over Blue Sky Vineyard in rural Makanda, where researchers have estimated darkness will last for approximately 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Four thousand people are expected to view the eclipse at this location.
Because an event of this kind and importance has not previously been seen in Southern Illinois, organizers of emergency services are not sure what to expect.
Union County Sheriff Scott Harvel said “some of the meetings that I have attended have given a range of 30,000 to 325,000 people” who could come to the area, which he said included Union, Jackson and Williamson counties.
At last Thursday’s meeting, representatives from the Union County Ambulance Service, Southern Seven Health Department, Union County Hospital, Union County 911, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, the Union County Board of Commissioners and the Union County Emergency Services Disaster Agency were present, among others.
A decision was made to distribute tents for nurses stations to be set up throughout the county during the week prior to the eclipse.
Discussion took place on how to care for any mental health patients who might need care.
Kim Honey, a licensed clinical social worker with Union County Counseling, shared concerns about emergency room space.
Skilled nursing centers and Rural Health were put forth as suggestions, but there were no simple answers. Every medical location is held by licensing and state requirements.
Another issue brought up is the transportation of patients from nurses stations to a treatment facility.
“We’re not even going to be available for transport,” Union County Ambulance Service director Grant Capel said.
“Union County Sheriff’s Office will be busy,” Honey said, and Sheriff Harvel agreed.
“It’s a very big possibility that there’s a large number of these situations,” Danny Hartline, Union County Commissioner, said, referring to mental health and substance abuse patients. “It’s all going to hit at one time.”
The group discussed the importance of having working phones and cell service so that communication will be possible between and within organizations.
“I don’t know that the networks can handle this,” Harvel said.
Plans were discussed to install fire ground repeaters to keep emergency lines open. Plans were also made to install signal boosters at ER locations.
Harvel shared his aim for traffic control. “All my guys will be spread out east to west.”
When asked about additional assistance from the Illinois State Police, Harvel explained “all we will have is four to five troopers for the whole district.” The district encompasses much of the southern tip of Illinois.
A common concern is that drivers will be on a major roadway when the eclipse begins and that confusion and the spectacle will lead to traffic congestion or accidents. One major accident could be a big concern.
Representatives of the various agencies in attendance at last week’s meeting in Anna asked that the community prepare for the extra arrivals during the eclipse weekend by buying groceries beforehand, getting cash early and having pairs of eclipse glasses to view the event.
The group plans to meet again in July and August to create a firm schedule for the eclipse and the days surrounding the event.