The population of the southeast Nebraska town of Beatrice may grow by several times during this month’s total solar eclipse and officials there say they’re trying to “over-prepare.”
Beatrice Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Daake is also the incident commander, similar to what happens when the city puts the local emergency operations plan into action.
“What we see as our biggest challenge is traffic gridlock,” Chief Daake says. “It’ll be kind of like going to Branson, a small town all of the sudden has a huge population and we’re not set up for that. Also, we’re hoping people are prepared that cell phones might not be working like they used to.”
Daake says the amount of calls for police or medical service are likely to increase with the jump in population during eclipse events on Monday, August 21st, and the weekend before.
“We’re hiring in extra off-duty personnel. Dispatch and police department’s doing that as well,” Daake says. “With all of the activities that are going on in the area, we’re setting up a command post in the conference room next to the dispatch center on that Saturday, Sunday and Monday.”
City officials have developed a map of areas that serve as camping and viewing sites. Find those at www.eclipsebeatrice.com.
Police Chief Bruce Lang says public safety efforts have a two-fold objective: providing assistance to people while being a good ambassador during the event.
“We think it’s really important for our first responders to serve a dual role,” Chief Lang says, “to not only be there if people need help or if there’s a problem but to also present a good face for the city.”
Lang says police will be able to manually control the traffic light at U.S. Highway 136 and Nebraska Highway 4 in west Beatrice. That intersection is expected to see a lot of traffic because of events going on at the Homestead National Monument of America. An officer is likely to be stationed at the intersection to help direct traffic.
Beatrice Mayor Stan Wirth says the planning process has been going on for several months.
“I think they’re trying to over-prepare, like they said, but as soon as we think we’ve got all of the bases covered, we’re going to miss one of them,” the mayor says.
In addition to police, the Gage County Sheriff’s Office and area volunteer units will play a role in security and services during the eclipse.
Beatrice is one of the communities in the middle of the eclipse’s path of totality and it’ll have one of the longest blackout times, at a little over two and a half minutes. In town, the start of the eclipse will begin at 11:37 AM with the start of totality at 1:02 PM.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice