Hill Country first responders prepare for influx of people visiting to view annular eclipse

‘We have been preparing for 18 months,’ says Kendall County emergency management coordinator

KENDALL COUNTY, Texas – One of the best places on Earth to see the annular eclipse next month is in the Hill Country, and emergency responders are collaborating to create a safety plan for the influx of people planning to visit the area.

Kendall County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Fincke just finished a trial run with local first responders handling crises during the annular eclipse next month. He is sharing his lessons and plans with surrounding area first responders.

Fincke said the trial run was a success.

“We have been preparing for 18 months. We’ve looked at a lot of after-action reports from places where the 2017 eclipse went through. And we’ve taken those and tried to learn from them,” he said.

Fincke said the biggest concern is the influx of traffic entering already congested areas like Boerne, Fredericksburg and Bandera County. Experts expect between 800,000 and 1.5 million people to surge in the area.

“That’s probably our first and foremost concern, is we’re keeping intersections and highways open so that emergency services can move freely and, again, not knowing how many people might show up,” Fincke said.

With that many people in town, Fincke said 911 dispatchers are expected to be overwhelmed with calls, so Kendall County is considering opening a phone bank.

“Kendall County, Boerne is going to open a phone bank. Hopefully, people will call that versus 911 because that’s the other concern we have is 911 calls (inundating) our dispatch center because people are going to block driveways. They’re going to park in places that people don’t want them,” Fincke said.

People coming from out of town may not be aware of the ongoing drought and fire danger. Fire departments are encouraging people to cut their grass and maintain their lawns so fires will burn slower if they start.

“We’re concerned about venues that haven’t cut their grass or maintained it, or some landowners decide, ‘Hey, let’s open the gate, let people come in and view it,’” Fincke said.

For the people traveling out of town to witness this celestial event, Dawn Davies with the Hill Country Alliance said resources will be limited when people come into town, including internet access.

The Hill Country Alliance is a collaboration of people working to preserve the Hill Country’s beauty, including its night skies.

“Because we have so many folks coming into the area, our cell service is going to be very taxed. So, less likelihood of being able to use those GPS services on your phone or mobile devices. So, obviously, in advance, if you can — so it sounds a bit archaic — print up a paper map to let you know where you’re going,” Davies said.

For people lucky enough to live in a prime viewing location, Davies said to prepare to stay home like it’s an ice storm and enjoy the eclipse.

“Preparing for the days leading up to the eclipse ... making sure that you’ve stocked up on groceries, you have sufficient water supply, fuel supply,” Davies said.

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About the Authors:

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.