With the approach of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 passing right over Platte County, residents are likely to see a population increase like never before in the community.
The eclipse will be the first that can be viewed from the contiguous United States since 1979, and locals are estimating an exponential increase in the local population over the eclipse weekend.
On June 22, a Business and Public Eclipse Huddle was held, where locals could discuss concerns about the population hike the eclipse will bring, and find ways to properly prepare. The Huddle was led by Kit Armour, Director of the Platte County Chamber of Commerce, Terry Stevenson with Platte County Emergency Management, and Jeannette Kaufman with Platte County Public Health.
“We do anticipate that people will start coming in on the weekend before and stay until the weekend after (the eclipse),” Armour said.
It’s expected that the majority of the population hike will take place starting on the weekend prior, as well as the day of, the eclipse.
“Look at the Front Range, two to three hours away from us, four million people,” Armour said. “If just two percent of them get in their car, that’s 80,000 people. Just different ways to think about that to consider the magnitude of what we are potentially dealing with.”
It was stated during the Huddle that lodging all around the area is entirely booked, even as far as Denver, Colorado. There are several hotels in the vicinity offering to shuttle customers to Platte County for the eclipse.
Another concern of what the population increase may bring was crime, specifically regarding visitors trespassing on properties.
“I had a conversation with the Sheriff...” Stevenson said. “He said, for one, put up a ‘no trespassing’ sign. The second thing is, you can’t tell people where not to go, you have to tell them where to go. Let them know where the viewing areas are.”
“The Sheriff’s department has no extra personnel — he will have about five or six units county-wide covering two shifts. Highway patrol will have I think eight in Platte and Goshen counties,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson also addressed potential issues with communication with emergency personnel.
“One of the biggest challenges of the county is communication; that is, between emergency responders and dispatch and so on,” Stevenson said. “We have a state-provided WyoLink digital radio system and it depends on towers. We expect it will be overloaded, so we have to come up with Plan B, and just in case that doesn’t work, we need to come up with Plan C... On July 6, we’re going to run a communication test throughout the county on our main system, the WyoLink system, and then the back-up system. We’ll probably follow up with other tests later on.”
There were several other recommendations of how to stay prepared during the eclipse, such as: getting grocery shopping done about a week or more ahead of time, picking up prescriptions/medical supplies early, filling gas tanks ahead of time, avoid scheduling doctor/dentist appointments during this time and keeping your vehicles and properties locked, keeping your valuables secure.
It was also stressed to expect slow or even the lack of internet and cell phone service during the eclipse weekend. This is also part of why it is important to get cash from ATM’s ahead of time.
Eye safety is one of the biggest factors to keep in mind for those planning to view the eclipse.
There are special-purpose solar filter eclipse glasses that have such a dark filter, Stevenson suggested to not even take a chance using a welding helmet to protect one’s eyes. Several places around Platte County sell these eclipse glasses, and they can also be purchased online.
Guernsey will hold a public meeting to discuss preparations for the eclipse with local residents tonight at 6 p.m. at First State Bank in Guernsey.