LIMA — Never let it be said that Allen County planners are procrastinators.
Nearly two and a half years before a total solar eclipse is scheduled to become visible across a large segment of the United States — with Lima identified as a prime viewing location — Allen County officials huddled via Zoom on Wednesday to talk about the logistical ramifications associated with the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“If you’re scratching your head wondering why we’re planning so far in advance, I urge you to do some research and see what other communities experienced” during a similar eclipse visible in the United States, said Major Andre McConnahea of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office.
That event took place on Aug. 21, 2017, and resulted in what have been described as “Super Bowl-type gatherings,” McConnahea said. “Some of those communities were planning up to 10 years in advance. We don’t want to get caught in a situation we could have prevented.”
Tom Berger, director of the Allen County Emergency Management Agency, led Wednesday’s meeting and said his agency will coordinate local preparation plans. He stressed that a community-wide effort will be necessary to adequately prepare for the event which could bring up to 60,000 eclipse-viewers to Lima.
The path of the total eclipse will enter Ohio in Darke County on the afternoon of April 8, 2024. In Lima the event will first be noticeable at 1:54 p.m., with eclipse totality achieved at 3:11 p.m. and lasting for three minutes and 51 seconds. Those who want the maximum possible length of totality can get an additional six seconds by driving to Wapakoneta.
The Buckeye State will be immersed in darkness at various spots for a total of 10 minutes. Prime viewing locations will have between two and four minutes of total darkness. Berger said the astronomy.com website lists Lima as the 13th best place in America to view the event.
The anticipated impact?
Two dozen local officials representing entities ranging from police, fire and safety service agencies to county airport officials to local hospitals took part in Wednesday’s Zoom call. Many will be asked to be part of a task force to enhance the eclipse planning process.
Berger envisions a committee that will focus on law enforcement, fire and EMS plans, hospital and medical issues, communications, public works, logistics and county engagement.
“There needs to be a community approach to planning for this,” Berger said.
Among the considerations to be addressed by the local task force is the anticipated demand by temporary visitors for hotels, camp sites and entertainment facilities. Another concern is traffic coordination. Berger said visitors at prime eclipse locations “typically arrive two or three days prior to the event, but they all leave immediately after, so we have to plan for that expected traffic flow.”
A representative of one of Lima’s two hospitals offered up a worst-case scenario: a lingering Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are bursting at the seams right now” as new Covid cases continue to rise in Allen County, said Rick Sanchez, chief of police at Lima Memorial Health System. “If you bring an additional 60,000 people into the community it could be potentially devastating to the hospital. Hopefully by 2024 we’ll be out of this mess.”
Several of the participants in Wednesday’s meeting stressed that the event could prove to be an economic windfall for the community.
The last time a total eclipse was visible in Ohio was 1806. The next such event will not take place for more than 70 years, Berger said.