ONTARIO — As the countdown of days before the Aug. 21 solar eclipse moves into the single digits, emergency responders are participating in trial runs, finalizing details and are urging residents — once again — to stock up on necessary supplies.
After prepping months in advance to assure the safety of the public, emergency responders in counties on both sides of the Snake River are set for the anticipated influx of visitors.
With thousands of solar-eclipse-goers expected to travel to the area, Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton, overall incident commander of the Solar Eclipse Emergency Management System, said he believes agencies are ready to face the upcoming challenge.
To test radio frequencies, a trial run was hosted Friday afternoon where personnel from multiple agencies. Those groups, including Ontario Fire and Rescue, Oregon Department of Transportation, Treasure Valley Paramedics and Malheur County Emergency Management, piloted communications inside the command center.
Leighton said the trial run was called to assure all agencies in Malheur County are on the same page when it comes to communications via radio frequencies.
“We want to make sure we are all able to take to each other during those days,” he said.
The command center, which will be stationed at Ontario City Hall, is said to be equipped with satellite — a big help in case cell towers are clogged up, Leighton said.
“With the satellite we are able to hook up to various links including Raptor and Tripcheck to look at traffic and to track any emergencies like fires or vehicle accidents,” he said. “It will help with planning for any type of incident we might have to deal with.”
As the days near closer to the solar eclipse, Leighton said, he is still unsure of how many people will be coming to the area, but says he is confident with the agencies due to the many practices and meeting hosted.
“I think everyone is ready for it and we’ll see how things arise, but everyone has done their preparation and we are ready to face this event,” Leighton said.
If there is one message Payette County wants to send, it’s that its emergency management team and participating agencies are prepared, and they hope to keep their citizens as informed as possible.
Payette County Lt. Andy Creech, who is also the county’s emergency manager, said one of his top priorities as the solar eclipse approaches is keeping citizens up-to-date on information.
To do just that, a public phone number and and email address was created for any individuals seeking to ask general questions related to the solar eclipse.
Creech said, unlike the hardships of winter, agencies know what to expect and are preparing as much as they can.
“What we learned from the winter events, is that citizens have lots of questions, and they need a direct line to ask questions to help facilitate our citizens to get answers to their questions,” Creech said. “We are trying to do our best to help our citizens as we head out into the event.”
Creech said the emergency management has also worked on its communication plans, including the use of WebEOC which will allow agencies in Idaho to share information with one another during the days leading up to the solar eclipse. That is so first responders may be kept in the loop if an emergency takes place, such as a motor vehicle crash. The system would provide simple information to hospitals, paramedics, public works and other agencies.
“It’s to help keep them involved and up to date,” Creech said.
Though Payette County lays its priorities within the county, Creech said. it will share resources where they are able to, adding that mutual aid may not be helpful because of gridlock.
“We all know in this area we are all connected. There is only a river separating us,” he said. “Unlike the winter, we didn’t start ahead of time, this time we know it’s coming and we are prepared to respond.”