Officials say they’re prepared for the eclipse


Local law enforcement and government officials say they are prepared for the prospect of tens of thousands of people to pass through or stop in Bartholomew County on Monday to watch the moon blot out the sun during the first total solar eclipse to sweep through the community in 155 years.

While it is hard to predict how many people will ultimately pack Interstate 65 and main thoroughfares in the county on Monday, the city of Columbus has said it expects 50,000 to 200,000 people to travel through Bartholomew County or stop to view the total solar eclipse. There also are several eclipse-themed events planned throughout the county starting Friday and continuing through the weekend.

First responders have spent over a year preparing for the worst to happen during large-scaled events in the Columbus area, including an event that is expected to draw as many people as Monday’s eclipse. But at the same time, officials said preparing for the eclipse has been like preparing for the unknown.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” said Bartholomew County Chief Deputy John Martoccia. “We’ve heard stories from other places but really don’t know what to expect. We’re prepared with all hands on deck.”

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department has divided the county into four quadrants where deputies will be assigned for their shifts. The department also has identified “hotspots” in the county where they expect more people to be gathering, including some events in the Hope area.

Martoccia said the department is prepared for tens of thousands or more people to pour into the county and were meeting with law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties this week to go over plans for the eclipse.

“Everybody is working the entire weekend, including admins,” Martoccia said.

The Columbus Police Department is expecting to see an increase in calls this weekend and on the day of the eclipse and is bringing in extra staff “so that we can make sure that we have enough people to respond to any kind of call,” said CPD spokesman Sgt. Skylar Berry.

One major concern that officials highlighted was traffic, especially when the eclipse ends and people leave. So far, CPD has not planned any traffic routing, except for an event at Columbus Municipal Airport.

“Besides having officers stationed at some … major intersections, we don’t plan on redirecting traffic anywhere else,” Berry said.

At the same time, Bartholomew County Emergency Management has been working with first responders and utilities, as well as street and highway departments, to develop what is called a mass casualty plan, emergency management director Shannan Cooke said.

A mass casualty incident is any natural or man-made incident where local management agencies and the healthcare system are overwhelmed, according to the National Institutes of Health. As in the military, the word “casualty” refers to the injured and fatalities.

While some medical and governmental offices are still reviewing the plan, it is scheduled to be in place Monday when the total solar eclipse attracts as many as 150,000 people either staying in Columbus or driving through the area, Cooke said.

As part of the plan, Bartholomew County Emergency Management will set up a command center the day of the eclipse. Cooke said the center will be operational from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday to the extent that traffic and crowd size warrant it.

Not new to the city, command centers are usually set up in locations away from the public during Ethnic Expo and other events that draw large crowds, including the Mill Race Marathon.

As part of a larger plan, a memorandum of understanding has been approved between city and county governments that designates NexusPark, located off 25th Street as the county’s casualty collection point on Monday only. The new facility will be the designated location where victims are immediately managed and given preliminary medical care if needed.

The most common types of mass casualty events are caused by terrorism, mass-transportation accidents, fires or natural disasters. The last time Columbus suffered a mass casualty incident was June 7, 2008, when a catastrophic flood killed three people, injured dozens more, damaged nearly 3,000 homes and prompted the evacuation of more than a thousand local residents and 157 hospital patients.

Since the city and county is expected to be overcrowded the day of the eclipse, Cooke said it was important to find a facility that can house the most people. The city is providing NexusPark free-of-charge, she said.

A significant benefit of using NexusPark is that there are 117 medical offices in the vicinity, Cooke said. Not only will trained personnel be on hand to take care of minor injuries, but qualified individuals will be nearby to determine if those with more severe injuries should be sent to hospitals, such as trauma and burn centers in Indianapolis.

While the Department of Homeland Security has requested that counties or local governments create mass casualty plans, county officials stress there is no known threat in Bartholomew County.

In case loved ones are missing, the Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road, will serve as Bartholomew County’s family reunification and information center, Cooke said.