IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — They’re not exactly preparing for World War III, but as fighter jets screamed over Idaho Falls during the recent Blue Thunder Air Show, it was something of a metaphor.
The big crowds for the air show provided a useful warmup for public agencies that may have to handle the challenges of much bigger crowds during the upcoming Great American Eclipse.
“Working together and communicating, it gives us very good practice for what we’ll see for the eclipse,” Idaho Falls Fire Chief Dave Hanneman said.
Hanneman is serving as eclipse incident commander for a variety of government agencies in eastern Idaho, many of which will be involved in emergency response if eclipse crowds generate problems — or even a disaster.
Across the country, some jurisdictions have already issued emergency declarations as they prepare for an onslaught of visitors. The total solar eclipse will be visible in 14 states on the morning of Monday, Aug. 21.
Beginning in midmorning, the moon’s shadow will sweep across America from coast to coast, coming ashore in western Oregon and heading back out to sea at Charleston, South Carolina.
Oregon is even calling out the National Guard.
The reality, though, is there’s no way to predict how many visitors will flock to any given location.
“We’re anticipating anywhere from 50,000 people to come into our region, all the way to 500,000,” Hanneman said.
Such crowds could dwarf the mass gathering at the air show, which drew tens of thousands of visitors from 25 states. But many of the air show planning issues overlap with eclipse preparations.
• Agencies will have to stand by for medical emergencies.
• Officials have to ensure adequate toilets. For months there have been worries about shortages of port-a-potties on Aug. 21.
• Health authorities theoretically have to make sure food vendors are properly permitted to ensure safe food for visitors.
“There’s a lot of people who want to make a little bit of money on this event,” said Nathan Taylor, with Eastern Idaho Public Health. “They may try to do things they’re not used to doing, and they don’t have the proper…