ONLINE EXTRA: Community Preparations at the Point of Greatest Eclipse

Brooke Jung, solar eclipse marketing and events consultant, City of Hopkinsville, Hopkinsville, Kentucky

Editor's note: This article's focus is on the planning and logistics involved in Hopkinsville, Kentucky's community preparations for the Great American Eclipse. Although not solely educationally centered, the information may be of interest for those who are involved in organizational tasks for large-scale outreach.

On August 21, 2017, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, will play host to a massive astronomical event — a total solar eclipse — and the planning details are unprecedented.

Hopkinsville, dubbed as "Eclipseville," bears significance within this astronomical phenomenon due to its designation as the Point of Greatest Eclipse, the point where the Moon is closest to Earth. As a result, an estimated 100,000 visitors are expected to make the journey to Christian County to witness this astronomical event, triggering a slew of preparations that must be made and logistical pieces that must fall into place.

The last eclipse that traversed the country in this way was 99 years ago, so it is hard to predict exact numbers of visitors, but Eclipseville planners know it will be larger than life. With 81 percent of the U.S. population within 600 miles of the path of totality, this will easily be the most-viewed solar eclipse in history.

As a community, Eclipseville is planning over twenty festivals and events in correlation with Eclipse weekend, leading up to the event itself on that Monday in August.

In preparation for welcoming the world to the Bluegrass State, the city of Hopkinsville is transforming the community and making detailed plans and preparations to best accommodate the visitors that are currently coming from eleven different countries and thirty different states.

Getting Around Eclipseville

One of the initial considerations discussed in the planning of this event, and a continuing topic of conversation, is the transportation and traffic concerns associated with getting individuals to a rural community with a population of about 32,000 within city limits and 70,000 within the Christian County area.

To facilitate the overwhelming transportation needs, we are working closely with local law enforcement agencies to identify high-traffic areas around our designated viewing locations and attractions. We will also have some Kentucky State Troopers in the community to assist with safety and transportation needs.

Additionally, we made a declaration to Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin to request support from the National Guard with regards to traffic control. We know that our local law enforcement agencies will be working around the clock and are working on options to bring in as much additional support as possible.

In planning for traffic congestion, we know that individuals will not just arrive via our roadways. We are working with our regional airport to facilitate the increase in privately owned aircraft that will fly in for this event. With seventy tie-down spots available, pilots have already begun making reservations to witness this event in Hopkinsville.

Healthy Habits in Hoptown

Another area of focus with the influx of visitors is health and sanitation. We want to ensure that our residents and visitors are not only healthy but also have access to clean and sanitary drinking water and restroom facilities.

Our planning committee has been focused on ensuring that our hospitals are staffed to capacity to prepare for any additional medical needs. Typically, August 21st in Hopkinsville is very hot and dry, so we are preparing our medical teams to be prepared to assess and treat heat-related injuries. We will also have first aid tents set up throughout the community to easily accommodate the needs of visitors.

Who doesn't love to sample the local cuisine when they go on a trip to a new city? We know that our restaurants will be unable to serve the number of additional visitors that we anticipate, so we are working to bring in approximately 100 temporary food vendors to supplement the available options.

With that task comes the additional challenge of finding registered environmentalists to assist with permitting and inspections to these temporary food vendors, ensuring safe handling procedures.

Can You Hear (and See) Me Now?

Another crucial element that plays a key role in almost everything that we do is staying connected. The solar eclipse is sure to be #trending on August 21st and might even create issues with wireless data access due to the expected volume of internet/cell activity.

As a result, we are working to ensure that guests at the Point of Greatest Eclipse have access to cell service in an area that typically hovers around 0-1 bar of coverage.

We are working with AT&T and Verizon to bring in temporary cell towers called Cells on Wheels (COWs) — units that will provide cell service within a three-mile radius of their location and will accommodate the increase in usage that we predict, ensuring that eclipse watchers can connect and share their experience across all platforms.

One element that we typically appreciate in the darkness will actually become quite a hindrance if left unattended. Our street lights will require attention to ensure guests have as little light pollution as possible during their eclipse encounter. Local utility companies have already performed test runs to ensure minimal light interference surrounding our anticipated high traffic areas.

A Lesson for All Ages

One of the main benefits of being the Point of Greatest Eclipse is the educational opportunities that are being introduced to residents of all ages.

Christian County Public Schools were vigilant in their effort to incorporate solar eclipse lessons into the curriculum of students from kindergarteners to high school seniors. Students learned about the eclipse either from their teachers or an outside guest speaker before having to present an eclipse-based project to a jury of their peers.

Project Based Learning (PBL) requirements encouraged students to get creative in their approach to discussing innovative solutions to potential logistical issues, viewing safety, and even web applications to assist in visitor satisfaction. In addition, the local Boys & Girls Club received a grant in conjunction with Austin Peay State University to participate in the Citizen CATE Project and Hopkinsville Community College will be sending NASA balloons into space on Eclipse day to capture unique data from a very special location.

Editor: For more information about the Eclipse Ballooning Project and Citizen Science, see in this issue: Eclipse Ballooning Project Offers a Great Opportunity for Citizens to Connect with Science.

The goal of all of these activities is to instill a lifetime love of learning and interest in science and technology.

Embracing the Eclipse

The solar eclipse has been on the minds of Hopkinsville residents for close to ten years, and many find it hard to believe we are mere weeks away from an event that will put Hopkinsville in the national and international spotlight.

With NASA, Time Magazine, PBS, and a collection of others all broadcasting live from the Point of Greatest Eclipse, this will undoubtedly be the largest event this community has ever seen. The excitement in the air is palpable and businesses are busy preparing for the influx of customers they will have on the third weekend in August.

Signs and murals adorn the community in preparation for the thousands of photo-ops. This an incredible event of global importance, and we couldn't be more thrilled to welcome the world to Eclipseville.

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