Six days from now the moon will blot out the sun as tens of thousands of people in Teton County watch — and also try to get to and from viewing points, in and out of the grocery store, and just around the area during their vacation.
And emergency workers in Teton County who have been preparing for this day — the total solar eclipse — for years have moved past the planning stage to the “event execution stage” — despite not knowing how many people are coming. Early estimates were that more than 50,000 additional people might be in the county, close to double a usual August day.
“We don’t know and we are not making an estimate,” Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Rich Ochs said Monday at the last planning meeting before the event.
The moon will take its first bite of the sun starting at about 10:16 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21. It will reach totality — the sun completely obscured and the darkness total — at 11:35 a.m. Totality will last about 2 minutes and 14 seconds. The sun will be back to normal just after 1 p.m.
The center line of totality runs through Jackson Hole Airport, about 9 miles north of town. That area is expected to be the center point of attention for tourists.
All organizations — Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson Hole Airport and others — are going to try to count visitors for a combined estimated total when it’s all over with. But they say there’s really no way to count heads, just cars.
But officials are more worried about public safety than they are about counting people.
“What we are trying to do here and what we’re trying to accomplish is getting these multiple agencies and jurisdictions together so that we can coordinate, collaborate, communicate and cooperate — the four Cs,” Ochs told the room filled with about 40 first responders.
Personnel with Teton County, the town of Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the National Elk Refuge, the Jackson Police Department, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Teton County Search and Rescue, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Teton Interagency Fire, Teton Village, St. John’s Medical Center and Jackson Hole Airport have been planning for more than two years under the guidance of Teton County Emergency Management and an eclipse coordinator.
“The EOC [Emergency Operations Center] is trying to serve that role of supporting the different incident management teams in the field and making sure we are all talking to each other,” Ochs said.
“The boundaries we have for jurisdictions, the visitors who are coming here for the eclipse have no idea what they are. They have no idea if they’re standing in the park, the forest or the airport. It’s incumbent on us to make sure we deliver public safety services in an efficient and coordinated manner and make sure that people have a good time.”
Town and county first responders will be dispersed to zones around the valley to make sure they can reach an incident even if there’s severe traffic congestion.
“Everybody is working,” Jackson police Lt. Roger Schultz said. “If they’re not working they’re sleeping.”
Expect to see public works officials at crosswalks, first responders on horseback or bicycle and other peacekeepers on all-terrain vehicles.
The last JacksonHoleLive concert will take place Friday, at which eclipse coordinators will hand out information on preparedness.
Incident commanders will dial in for twice daily briefings that will be sent out to the public via Nixle alerts.
“I just want to thank everyone in here,” said Kathryn Brackenridge, total solar eclipse special event coordinator. “You’ve all done your jobs. That’s for sure.”
Officials encourage residents to keep informed by visiting TetonEclipse.com, where there are custom information tabs for visitors and locals.
Look for in-depth eclipse-related stories in this week’s Jackson Hole News&Guide’s Scene section.