Emergency managers, responders prep for total solar eclipse

Agencies prep for emergencies during eclipse.

BOISE -- With the highly-anticipated total solar eclipse just a few days away, emergency preparations are in full swing. From the Idaho Office of Emergency Management (IOEM) to land managers across the state, agencies are gearing up for any type of situation.

IOEM will have their Joint Operations Center (JOC) fully staffed over the weekend and into Monday during the rare event.

"A one-stop location so we can say, in the path of totality in Idaho what's happening where," IOEM Public Affairs Officer Elizabeth Duncan said, "That's what our counties and our partners need from us. They need to know, OK what can you guys tell us about this particular road in this particular county? And we are able to find that information."

"Then we are able to say, this can go here, this can go there."

The center is a hub of information and resources; staff are on high alert for any and all types of situations that might occur during Monday's possible madness.

"You have a big event and the potential for all sorts of complicating issues is pretty high," Duncan added.

In case an emergency arises, the JOC can deploy resources where they're needed.

"It provides us with this really robust common operating picture," Duncan said. 

IOEM will be monitoring social media (you can tweet at them using #IDEclipseUpdates, Idaho Transportation Department traffic counts and cameras and available resources through a platform called Web EOC - an information-sharing platform for the state of Idaho and counties within the state.

"People can feed it with information which then feeds our common operating picture," Duncan added.

IOEM and other federal, state, and local agencies are advising eclipse watchers to be patient and be prepared. You can find a full preparedness checklist here, which includes items such as days worth of water and food, a first aid kit, eclipse-watching safety glasses, and more.

Emergency managers are, of course, monitoring potential fires before and during the total solar eclipse. As tens to hundreds of thousands are expected to flock to Idaho, the potential for human-caused fires is rising in already fire-prone areas.

"We are in the peak of fire season right now and that would create such a potential for even more issues," Duncan told KTVB.

"[The risk is] higher with more people, the high temperatures, the dry grasses. We're in a risky situation," Idaho Department of Lands Public Information Officer Sharla Arledge added.

Land managers responsible for fire protection like the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are on high alert, as well.

"We are fully staffed and ready to go," Boise District Bureau of Land Management Fire Information Officer Jared Jablonski said.

IDL and a timber protective association are pre-positioning extra engines and aerial crews along the path of totality.

"Additional fire resources [are] available in case there's a wildfire emergency," Arledge said. "In addition to our regular resources, we are adding a helicopter and helitack crew to High Valley, which is between Ola and Banks. In Centerville, we are prep-positioning two additional engines."

The Southern Idaho Timber Protection Association (SITPA) is adding two additional engines and will be staged near Smiths Ferry, Arledge added.

The BLM Boise District is also staging additional resources in anticipation of traffic and clogged roads.

"Between Emmett and Weiser we will have some resources in that area ready. In case we do happen to have a fire that way they're closer and we won't have to deal with quite as much traffic hopefully," Jablonski told KTVB. "I believe we will have three engines, a dozer and a water tender."

According to the Forest Service, parts of the Boise National Forest will be within the path of totality. The Cascade, Emmett, Lowman and Idaho City Ranger Districts have large areas within or near the path of totality and the eclipse will pass over the Sawtooth, Salmon-Challis, Caribou-Targhee and the Bridger Teton National Forests.

BLM and the Boise National Forest (Forest Service) will have information stations throughout the path of totality and personnel will be out patrolling, passing out information to visitors about our current Stage 1 Fire Restrictions and fire prevention.

Under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions, campfires are allowed only in designated recreation sites and only within a permanent metal or concrete structure. Smoking is allowed in a building or vehicle, a developed recreation site or in an area cleared of all flammable materials.

"The effort to get the word out on fire prevention is definitely a team effort between the Forest Service, BLM and Idaho Department of Lands," Jablonski added.

The BLM advises the following prevention tips:

- Don’t drive or park on dry grass! Vehicle exhaust systems can reach up to 1,000 degrees and can easily start a wildfire in tall dry grasses.

- Remember to extinguish your campfire every time you leave camp. Drown your fire with water, stir and feel it to ensure it is cold.

- Possession and discharge of fireworks is prohibited on public lands.

- Keep your vehicle maintained, mufflers secure, tires inspected and safety chains crossed and off the ground. One spark from dragging metal can cause a wildfire.

Other BLM advice includes: Drive on established roads only, don't block traffic because roads must be passable, GPS is not always reliable and cell service can be spotty, pack it in and pack it out if camping, plan ahead and prepare, dispose of waste properly, be alert to wildlife on roadways, and be considerate of others.

The Boise National Forest advises the following in order to prepare for your forest visit:

- Let someone know where you are going.

- Stop by a Forest Service office to buy a forest map. You can download a free Motor Vehicle Use Map to your smart device before your visit.

- GPS navigation systems may be unreliable within the forest and you may be directed to unsuitable roads.

- Do not expect cell phones or tablets to work. Many areas throughout the forests do not have cellular reception.

- Be prepared for highly congested roads and camping areas - especially the day of the eclipse. Carry extra food, water and be prepared if you get stranded and have to spend the night.

- Most Forest Service roads are unpaved and suited for high clearance vehicles only. When driving an RV or pulling a trailer, be sure the roads you travel are suited for your vehicle.

- Keep roads open for emergency traffic and do not block the road in any way.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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