Hey! Who Turned Out the Lights?

As you may have already heard, a large portion of Oregon will be in the path of a total solar eclipse that will happen on August 21, 2017.  Depending on whether or not you are prepared, those few minutes where the sun hides from us could be really exciting or a major headache.  The Red Cross and many local, state and federal agencies are using this event as a reminder for all of us to be prepared for large events and natural disasters that could happen in our area. 

Before volunteering at the Red Cross, these large events didn’t enter into my thinking.  Why would I be concerned about having cash on hand during a natural disaster?  It never crossed my mind that the ATM at the store might actually run out of cash.  I also never considered that cellular infrastructure would be severely taxed by an influx of cell phone users suddenly trying to connect in our local service area. 

I live in a small town in Oregon, so I know the roads going into and out of rural central Oregon are teensy, tiny, little, two-lane roads. I have come to love them, but during ski season the traffic is awful, and local restaurants are constantly crowded. Nevertheless, if you are willing to wait around, you will ultimately get fed. But what will happen during the eclipse? Will restaurants and mom-and-pop grocery stores run out of food?  What about the gas station?  Will it run out of gas?  Will cell phone service still be available?  Will we be able to get money from the ATMs?

A number of agencies have put out information for visitors about what to expect when they get to our area.  Websites like traveloregon.com and the Oregon Office of Emergency Management have great tips and suggestions for those who want to be prepared for the eclipse.

“The agencies have been doing their best to prepare for the eclipse,” said Cory Grogan, public information officer for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. “But if weather on the coast doesn’t cooperate and folks travel inland or more people decide at the last minute to hop in their cars and come here, it will be difficult for our infrastructure to handle the vehicle load.” 

Grogan’s biggest tip for all of us is to have a plan—not just a plan for the eclipse, but a plan for emergencies and disasters in general.  As far as the eclipse goes, Grogan’s biggest concern is the ability of our infrastructure – meaning roads and cell services – to support the added demand that will be placed on it during the weekend of the eclipse.
According to Grogan, most campgrounds, hotels and private lands in the ‘path of totality’ (the part of Oregon that will experience the total eclipse) have been reserved for months.  Reservation data collected from campgrounds and hotels has alerted local, state and federal agencies that Oregon will experience a significant number of visitors coming to the area. 

Another concern Grogan discussed was for health and sanitation.  The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has been working with other agencies in areas expecting the largest numbers of people.  These agencies will ensure adequate restroom facilities are available and that those facilities will be properly maintained.

If you are traveling somewhere to check out the eclipse, follow the tips below to make a positive experience for you and your family:

  • Fill your gas tank before you go.
  • Make sure you have sufficient food and water.
  • Take blankets/sleeping bags, flashlights, clothes and possibly a tent in case you have to sleep on the ground or in your car. 
  • Have cash with you! ATMs could run out of money, and many local stores have been advised to accept only cash because of the additional strain credit and debit cards place on the wireless network.
  • Take a paper map with you of the area you will be visiting. Cell service is weak or nonexistent in many rural areas of Oregon, come mapping apps may not be a valid option with so many people trying to connect with the outside world on their smartphones.
  • Have a first aid kit with you, filled with items such as bandages, antibacterial ointment, tissues, pain reliever and sunscreen.
  • Only build fires in designated areas. With so many extra people camping in the region, the potential for camp fires to get out of hand is greater than normal.
  • While watching the eclipse, don’t look directly at the sun, or your vision could become permanently damaged. Buy eclipse glasses to view the sun. They’re a stylish way to save your eyesight and watch the solar eclipse in all its glory (and a great opportunity for a fashionable selfie).
  • If you are a resident of rural Oregon and you have significant medical issues that could require you to be able to access medical services (including late stage pregnancy), consider leaving the area before visitors show up. Transportation may be very difficult and may take a lot longer than it normally would.

Being prepared for the upcoming eclipse is great, but what about the other natural disaster risks in Oregon?  We have earthquakes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. Are you and your family ready for these types of events?

The Red Cross are here to help you get prepared.  Last year, the Red Cross held an event called Camp Prepare! The purpose of the event is to get people thinking about and preparing for the unexpected.  Camp Prepare! will be held this year from 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 12, through 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 13. The only requirements to participate are to go without water, electricity and technology for a day, using only items that are already in your emergency preparedness kit. This activity will give you the chance to see how prepared you and your family are for a major natural disaster, such as a Cascadia earthquake. 

If you decide to participate, the Red Cross suggests you take a picture of your campsite before you turn off your phone.  Then, post your photo to social media and tag the local Red Cross account (Facebook: @RedCrossCascades; Twitter: @RedCrossCasc; Instagram: @RedCrossCascades).  Take an especially creative photo or share a great story along with your photo to win prize packs valued at more than $200 each and include a Leatherman multi-tool, Ledlenser headlamp, Ledlenser flashlight, Mountain House food samples and a Red Cross first aid kit. Check out the event details here.

You can also visit redcross.org/local/oregon/preparedness/preparedness-toolkit for some great online resources that will help you get started on the road to being prepared. 

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact your local Red Cross office.  If you are looking for more information on the eclipse and different ideas and recommendations for being prepared, visit the following websites: