Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency plans for worst-case eclipse scenario

Apr 2, 2024 | Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Ottawa County has been preparing for the April 8 eclipse for months. The center of its preparedness is inside the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency located in the Ottawa County Courthouse. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Local emergency management agencies (EMA) are facing the unusual predicament of planning for a once-in-a-lifetime event that has the potential to bring thousands of people to their communities. The impact of the April 8 total solar eclipse is highly dependent on the weather. Cloudy skies may keep the crowds away, but sunshine could bring record numbers of visitors to the area. For most EMA directors, the plan is to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

For Ottawa County EMA Director Fred Petersen, that means preparing for the population to swell to two times its normal size. His office won’t be overwhelmed by a surge, which is typical in the summer season, when the population of Port Clinton can sometimes triple.

“The difference is, after the eclipse, they’ll all be leaving at the same time,” he said.

The swell in population could create shortages similar to a big snowstorm, Petersen said.

“If possible, go to the grocery store early and fill up your gas tank early,” he said. “There might be shortages of food and gas. It won’t be life threatening, just inconvenient.”

The Ottawa County EMA office has been working with government and public agencies for months to prepare for the eclipse.

“We’ve had a series of planning and coordination meetings with local government offices, law enforcement, public works, EMS and fire so everyone can understand what is coming and what different agencies are doing,” Petersen said. “We’re also working with ODOT and the highway patrol.”

Ottawa County EMA Director Fred Petersen gives a tour of the EMA offices to Port Clinton High School students. Petersen and his staff will be busy inside the offices on April 8, when the solar eclipse could bring thousands of people to the county. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

One of the biggest public safety concerns across the totality region is travel congestion, particularly after the eclipse, when spectators are trying to make their way home. Because crowded roadways could hinder First Responders from reaching emergencies, Petersen is asking locals to stay off the roads as much as possible during that time.

“Don’t contribute to the chaos,” he said. “There will be significant delays. There could be congestion on 269 and 163 because of the construction on Route 2. You obviously don’t want to come back from Sandusky on the Bay Bridge because it’s down to one lane, and we’re told the second lane will not be open.”

To help prevent congestion, many communities will close nonessential government offices for the day, and all the schools in Ottawa County will close except Put-in-Bay, which won’t face travel congestion issues. Instead, Put-in-Bay is planning special eclipse day events in the afternoon.

Put-in-Bay Schools principal/superintendent Scott Mangas said the school’s science teacher is planning to hold an eclipse-themed assembly for the students, and then the student body will walk across to the baseball diamond to view the eclipse together.

“The parents have the option to keep their kids home that day, but I don’t think anyone is planning to do that,” Mangas said. “It will be a memorable day for the students.”

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