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It’s all hands on deck.
Leaders from various organizations and governments in North Central Arkansas came together yesterday at The Shied at ASU-Mountain Home for Baxter Health’s Tabletop Drill for Arkansas’s upcoming 2024 solar eclipse.
The drill saw local leadership begin planning for the massive influx of tourists expected to descend on Baxter, Marion, and Fulton County over the course of 4-5 days in the lead-up to the eclipse, as well as the potential strain on each county’s respective resources and infrastructure.
In attendance were representatives from the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Game and Fish, Arkansas State Police, Air Evac Lifeteam, Baxter County Judge Kevin Litty, Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, Black Hills Energy, Bull Shoals Chamber of Commerce, City of Mountain Home, City of Briarcliff, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cotter Fire Department, Entergy, Flippin’s Mayor’s Office, Marion County OEM, Mountain Home Police and Fire Departments, NAEC, NATCO, Ozark Dynamics, Yelcot, various school districts and media outlets, and many more.
“To be able to have this many people, from three different counties here this morning, doing a tabletop exercise to be prepared for April 8th in 2024 is pretty incredible,” said Baxter Health CEO Ron Peterson. “That just shows the spirit and camaraderie that we have here in this community. I want to thank you for being here today, I want to thank you for wanting to be prepared for April 8th. It will be kind of exciting, in my opinion, to see how many people will actually come to see the eclipse.”
Next year’s eclipse will mark the United States’s third eclipse in the 21st century, with no other eclipse occurring in the U.S. again until 2044. Unlike last week’s partial eclipse, Mountain Home and Baxter County will be under total darkness next April for over three minutes due to being in the path of full totality.
State officials expect over 2 million eclipse viewers to descend on Arkansas, as the state has some of the least amount of light pollution along the eclipse path, allowing tourists and residents to experience total darkness in rural areas of the state.
Baxter County officials are expecting the county’s population to surge anywhere between 150,000 to 250,000 people in the weekend leading up to the eclipse.
A video of what the eclipse will look like in Mountain Home can be seen below.
“The purpose of this drill is to facilitate discussion around the worst-case scenarios during the 2024 event,” said Baxter Health’s Johnny Harvey. “The first time we think of risks and mitigation strategies should not be during the actual event. We want to identify potential hazards and risks associated with a total solar eclipse. We want to address responses to anticipate any challenges and foster community collaborations.”
After a brief presentation over the eclipse itself, Baxter Health officials began running a series of injects, or questions, to each table in the crowd to help focus on what challenges first responders and leadership were expecting to face over the course of the entire eclipse.
Following the injects, Baxter County Justice of the Peace Dirk Waldrop discussed his experience in viewing the 2017 eclipse in Jefferson City, Missouri. During his presentation, Waldrop said things went relatively smoothly in the lead-up to the eclipse, before falling apart after tourists rushed to get home.
Waldrop said traffic was at a standstill for several hours, leading to frustration and fighting alongside the road. He also noted that several gas stations and businesses began price-gouging tourists as they attempted to go home.
After Waldrop’s presentation, Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce President Dani Pugsley updated members of the exercise on what events would be occurring in Mountain Home and surrounding areas. A website featuring an extensive list can be found here.
In Mountain Home, residents will be able to attend a concert at ASUMH over the eclipse weekend, as well as a festival in downtown Mountain Home and Hickory Park.
The Chamber has ordered 20,000 pairs of eclipse glasses for those who do not have a pair yet. They can be found at the Chamber’s main building in Mountain Home. T-shirts for the eclipse are also available.
Here’s a rundown of what was generally agreed upon during the exercise:
- Most first responders and county leaders agreed that communication was going to be the key to ensuring public safety throughout the course of the eclipse.
- Most also agreed that each county’s telecommunication and internet infrastructures have a good chance of going down due to the mass influx of individuals attempting to use them at once.
- First responders agreed that pagers, landlines, and radios should be prepared in advance if cell towers go down. First responders will also brush up on their map skills in case GPS is unavailable.
- Each media outlet in town agreed to coordinate with each local government across Baxter, Marion and Fulton County to help keep the public informed of any accidents or major events. KTLO will continue to broadcast over the radio waves if the internet goes down. The Observer agreed to look into purchasing Starlink to keep information flowing for those who can connect to the internet.
- Most agreed that early education from both the media and local governments and organizations was needed to help the public prepare for empty store shelves and barren gas stations.
- Most agreed that organizations and governments should stock up on supplies and gasoline prior to the week of the eclipse.
- First responders should prepare to work extra shifts throughout the eclipse weekend. An increase in eye injuries is expected.
- Traffic throughout the county is expected to be at a standstill during the eclipse and the day after. Some floated making each highway coming into the county outgoing traffic only. The media is looking into getting volunteer pilots to help monitor traffic accidents from the air as traffic leaves the county.
- Residents should also expect difficulty in moving around the county and its cities during the eclipse. It is recommended that the elderly stay at home during the eclipse.
- Baxter Health staff will stock up on supplies in preparation for a Code Yellow event in the county. ER staff can expect to work longer hours during the eclipse.
- Baxter Health will also focus on having optometrists available for tourists and residents who make the mistake of looking into the sun without proper eyewear.
- Local healthcare providers are currently working on plans to assist those who may have a medical emergency over the eclipse weekend. In-home nurses are also working on plans to continue to provide care to local residents.
- Most first responders agreed over concerns of heavy traffic impeding their ability to travel to emergencies.
- Elective surgeries will most likely be canceled on April 8th and 9th.
- Most agreed that local residents should stock up on goods at least a week before the eclipse as Walmart, grocery stores, and gas stations will most likely run out of supplies in the lead-up to the event.
- Local business owners can expect a surge of customers and should prepare to have limited staff.
- Local schools and daycare providers are expected to be closed on April 8th.
- Resorts and campgrounds are being asked to have a minimum booking period of four days to help with traffic.
- Most agreed that there could potentially be an increase in crime due to slow emergency response times.
- Price gouging was a concern to some participating in the exercise.
- Concerns over burnout by staff members across various organizations were also raised by members of the exercise.
- Concerns were raised over restocking supplies and recovering staff following the eclipse.
- Local residents should also expect to see squatters throughout the course of the eclipse.