John Bishop, OSSA Executive Director & Retired Curry County SheriffOn Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America was treated to an eclipse of the sun. Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights, a total solar eclipse. The eclipse stretched from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. This eclipse was slated to bring thousands if not over a million visitors to our state.
Our mission is to keep our citizens, as well as any visitors, safe. We needed to be mindful of not only enforcing the laws but educating people who may be visiting for the first time. The sheriffs worked with the Oregon State Police, ODOT, Oregon Emergency Management, and other state and federal agencies, as well as local police departments, to make this as smooth of an event as possible. Sheriffs from counties that were not in the path of totality also sent deputies to assist agencies in the path of totality. Mutual aid is an area where the Oregon Sheriffs are very adept.
While some of the areas didn’t get hit as hard as expected, other areas were hit harder. Many roads were congested. People tried circumventing the main roads which clogged up the side roads as well. As of this writing, no major incidents were reported. Another concern was the dry climate, and rural areas that could have possibly become congested due to a wildfire and the need to evacuate would have been hampered if not completely blocked. Fortunately, this did not happen, but it should be noted that Oregon was experiencing several active wildfires over the eclipse weekend, which caused thousands of homeowners to be evacuated, adding additional vehicles to the major roadways.
Another issue we planned for was communication interruptions, possibly hampering a search and rescue effort. Some of our smaller area’s communication systems are not able to handle large amounts of calls. More dispatchers were on duty, and the cell phone broadband was increased to reduce the risk of a system overload. The possibility of persons becoming lost was high, as many of the visitors were from out-of-state and not familiar with the territory. Search and rescue teams were staged around the state, where they could quickly respond to a call. Hospitals were well prepared for an increase in patients. These efforts proved to be very valuable, as we did not experience any system outages, minimal search and rescue calls and no major hospital needs.
We attempted to foresee problem areas and station our resources where we thought they would be needed most. Looking back at the event after it happened has shown the planning we did worked well for the most part. All Oregon Sheriffs, along with OSSA and other partners, are reviewing/addressing any issues in their plan and will meet the challenge when the next major event arises.
God bless our sheriffs and their deputies, and God bless the United States of America.
Sheriff John Bishop (Retired)
OSSA Executive Director