By Beth Buck
The Great American Eclipse, as many are calling it, will be here in just a few days. The areas along the path of the totality estimate they will see hundreds of thousands of extra people pouring in for the event, in some cases doubling—or more!—the populations of various small American towns. Many townships and counties anticipate this vast influx of people will present its own set of challenges as infrastructures are tested. One can easily predict how many people will be at least staying overnight for the solar eclipse based on the numbers of hotel rooms and campgrounds that are completely booked. Yet millions of people live within a half day's drive of the solar eclipse's path of totality, and there is no good metric for discerning how many of those people will go up just for the day, or how many others who—like myself—will be staying with family.
There are predictions of loss of electricity as grids struggle to accept the additional volume, clogged roads full of day-trippers, cleaned-out grocery store shelves, and plumbing trouble. In this way, the eclipse is starting to look like any other disaster and emergency; not because of the eclipse in itself, but because of the massive human response to it.
NASA predicts that the best spot along the totality, when factoring average cloud cover, etc., will be Eastern Idaho. Thus, municipalities in this area have been conducting town hall meetings, sending out emails, and posting notices for their residents for months in order to prepare for the descending hordes of eclipse-chasers.
I asked one resident what he had done to prepare for what in my household we have begun to refer to as the Rexburg Ragnarok
. Here are some of his preparations:
- He purchased dozens of water bottles, plus several 5-gallon jugs full of water for drinking and cooking. He estimates that he has enough for his family (which includes a small swarm of visiting family members) for four days. He opted against the large barrels because smaller containers are easier to handle.
- Emergency toilets. A water shortage doesn't only mean you need to store water, it also means you need to make alternative arrangements for sanitation as well. He purchased an emergency toilet kit, liners, and enzyme packets for use in case the local sewer system proves unable to handle the additional use.
- Food storage updates—since it's expected that it will be nigh impossible to purchase groceries that weekend, he looked through all his food storage to ensure it was a) edible, and b) up-to-date. (Of course, you should do this on a regular basis anyway)
- Due to concerns that the cell towers will be down because of the projected increase of traffic, he purchased a ham radio and has taken steps toward getting his technician's license.
- Most credit card readers use cell towers to communicate purchases. In the event the cell towers prove non-functional, he has some extra cash on hand for emergency purchases.
- If the gas stations are completely sold out of fuel that weekend, he has extra fuel stored in gas cans so the aforementioned swarm of visiting family members will be able to fuel their vehicles upon departure, with at least enough gasoline to get past the traffic congestion.
- Off-grid cooking methods. No electricity means no chance of a hot meal. With an outdoor grill and a solar oven, it doesn't matter what the status of the local grid may be.
- Electrical generators. If the electricity goes out, most generators won't be able to sustain normal electrical usage, but it is enough to keep a fridge or freezer running and thus prevent food spoilage.
My contact admitted that his preps could very well be considered overkill, but it's always better to have preps in place and not need them. I myself will be heading to Idaho to witness the totality, so I will be there firsthand to see if the disaster predictions live up to the hype. Stay tuned next week for “I Survived the Great American Eclipse.”
Beth Buck has been involved with emergency preparedness since her very earliest years. She enjoys hiking, martial arts, reading, and writing about food storage. Beth lives in the Intermountain West with her family.