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Umbral Truths - the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Recap

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

I'll begin by offering some FREE Solar Eclipse Planning Resources - a couple of these are sourced from .gov or other entities with attribution, the infographics and presentation materials are Copyright 2023 Grounded Truths LLC - please leave the watermarking on them as attribution if you re-share them elsewhere. All material within that folder regardless of source is cleared for public release.

I made a YouTube video about my experience in 2017 at the Center of Totality and what we did - and should have done to get ready for it - I'll embed it below, but wanted to add some key points here by way of a more After Action Review-type brief post. We'll use the WILD format for this AAR.

What Went Well:

  • Additional Resources (Federal LE/Fire - available in our case because USFS/BLM/NPS lands were heavily impacted by the massive increase of visitors) were brought in - assisted with traffic control, numerous additional minor incidents and deterrence of crime

  • State/Federal resources were moved OUT of John Day/Canyon City/Prairie City 4 days ahead of Totality to avoid getting "caught up" in town traffic congestion thus negatively impacting response times.

  • Messaging and information campaigns over area visitor-facing websites (Chamber, Forest, etc) provided clear, easy to access, up to date information.

  • Visitor Information Booths were set up in easily-accessible locations - on the edges of towns, close to highways, but not directly on them to mitigate traffic issues. Booths were manned the entire week before Totality with knowledgeable local staff.

  • "Trap lines" were set up and maintained with the latest news and alerts regarding road/area closures, fire restrictions, and other pertinent information - trap line sites included grocery stores, convenience stores, and sandwich boards placed at Forest Service, State Forestry, and public safety (city/county fire, law enforcement) buildings in the entire area.

  • An All-Risk Type 3 Incident Management Team was stood up and hosted by the Malheur NF to coordinate preparation, operations, and response to incidents, and manage the additional resources brought in to the area.

What to Improve:

  • Acknowledge the significance of the coming Eclipse MUCH sooner in the grand timeline of things! When the Chamber and/or Visitor/Tourism Bureau folks say "THEY'RE COMING" - LISTEN TO THEM! They have their fingers on the pulse of the community and know when hotels are seeing unusually high booking activity, etc.

  • Begin pre-planning actions WELL in advance. By the time the decision was made Federally to authorize Forests, Parks, and BLM Districts to start planning response actions, it was too late in the game - we had to scrounge for additional resources, both emergency responders AND equipment/supplies such as porta-potties and dumpsters.

  • On the theme of earlier planning - a more comprehensive interagency approach begun WELL in advance would have been preferable. Forests, the Park, and BLM District should have been "at the table" with local planning efforts in an official capacity much sooner.

  • Anyone else picking up on the theme of EARLIER IS BETTER here? Ok good, moving on...

What We Learned:

  • At the time we didn't know it, but we were the "Me Eclipse" experience. We were fortunate that "Me Eclipse"ers are likely more self-sufficient because they're essentially planning that "solitude outing" which in our area's case meant "extended stay camping" and came prepared with food and fuel. Most people seemed to do their homework with regard to how remote the Blue Mountains are.

  • Also unknown at the time but known now: "We Eclipses" tend to attract people who are less self-sufficient as they're treating it like "going to an event" like it's a concert or the SuperBowl - they plan being able to stay in accommodations, eat at a restaurant, or buy food/drinks from stores/vendors. I heard from reliable sources about logistical issues arising out of SolarFest due to people overwhelming stores and gas stations.

  • The dire predictions about "riots in the supermarket over the last case of water/loaf of bread/package of bologna" did not materialize - mostly for reasons explained above. Madras, the "We Eclipse" experience, DID encounter store item and fuel shortages.

To-Do Different Next Time:

  • Plan ahead! Much further ahead - this lesson learned DID get picked up by the Forest Service, who recognized the potential of the upcoming Annular and Total Eclipses and that there was potential for impacts to Forests and other Federally-managed lands.

  • Recognize the differences of "Me Eclipse" vs "We Eclipse" - local planners particularly need to understand the different wants and needs of these user groups and account for them. Likewise, planners need to recognize as they plan ahead, which user group they are more likely to attract.

  • Bring more cooperators, collaborators, and stakeholders to the planning table - get the communication along with information- and idea-sharing going across a much broader spectrum of interest groups. Also, start it earlier. Seeing a pattern here yet, because I'm being about as blatant as a shovel to the face here...

  • Stepping up the blatancy: PLAN AHEAD AND START MUCH EARLIER. This is also just generally useful life advice in any domain, business or personal.

Now the Video:

Note that some of these elements are covered, some are not. Apologies for "just the map and talking", but my YT account is young and I don't want to get dinged with copyright strikes for utilizing pics or footage from the net - that's bad juju.

Questions, comments, concerns? Drop a comment, here or on the video, or give me a call or email!

It's cliche but needs to be said: if you like this kind of content and find it useful, helpful, informative, or enjoyable, give me a thumbs-up on the video with the like button and subscribe to the channel for more!


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