The Eclipse of 2017, which will occur on Monday, August 21, is a big deal for Missouri. Both Kansas City and St. Louis are partially in the path. It’s been projected that more people in our state will, by default, see the eclipse – full and partial – because the path will come so close to these major metropolitan areas. Imagine what this astronomical phenomena would look like from the St. Louis Arch.
For those not fortunate enough to be in the path, it means travel. And it is estimated that millions of Americans will travel to be within the optimal viewing areas, which includes a path from Northwest to the Southeast Missouri
The total event will last just over two hours, but for several minutes — if you’re in the right spot — the moon will obscure the sun fully. It’s not actually the Dark Side of the Moon, but it will briefly look that way.
On Wednesday, I was at a meeting in Kansas City. Also attending were several hospital members who made time to Speak to Me about what they were doing to prepare for the eclipse. When hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in towns across the state for a few days, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. What I know from this meeting and others is that hospital emergency preparedness staff — and incident command leads throughout the state’s hospitals — have barely had time to Breathe, sorting through scenarios, and planning and coordinating for just about every contingency.
The optimal viewing path runs diagonally across Missouri, with St. Joseph on one end and Perryville on the other. On Monday Aug. 21, millions of Americans will be On the Run to get to these communities and others along the path. Transportation officials are expecting epic traffic jams throughout the state. They’re fearful that during the height of the eclipse drivers will pull off the roads — including interstate highways — to view the event. If you’re saying to yourself, “who would do that,” take Time to reflect on humanity.
It’s a tourism bonanza, with many communities planning three days of activities — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. And, for communities within the path it’s The Great Gig In the Sky.
For hospitals, there are a lot of challenges that come with the event. It’s August and millions of folks will be outside. Dehydration, or even heat exhaustion, are very real considerations. In much of the state, there will be a transition from a normal mid-day sun, to black as night and back — all within two hours. It’s impossible to know what type of mischief that could cause.
And, of course there is the possibility that some individuals will simply not realize that gazing at the sun during an eclipse without eye protection is harmful.
Viewing glasses are available nearly everywhere. However, there are concerns because some folks, seeing all the Money being spent on the event, are selling eclipse glasses that don’t offer adequate protection. Hospitals and physicians have been building awareness about unsafe glasses, and the public conversation is good. In this Us and Them discussion, we’re winning. A great example is Perry County Memorial Hospital. Perryville is expecting its population to quadruple, since they’re in the viewing sweet-spot in eastern Missouri. The hospital is providing safe eyewear to the community and visitors.
Hospitals invest in all-hazards planning for a reason. The resources and systems needed to react to natural disasters like tornados and earthquakes, and other crises like civil unrest or terror attacks, are the same — planning and a structured incident command system. On the 21st, you can wear Any Color You Like. Staff at hospitals throughout Missouri will don incident command vests with colors and titles specific to their roles and responsibilities. Their efforts will sychronize with partners in public health, law enforcement and other emergency management organizations and agencies.
Like any significant event, there are funny stories as well. According to the Kansas City folks, they’ve had inquiries about whether pets need eye protection. Not sure if the caller had Brain Damage, but humans are about the only animal that would consider staring at the sun for an extended period.
The Eclipse of 2017 is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Next week, we’ll be checking weather forecasts and thinking about how nothing will stand in our way to see this incredible show. It should be an unbelievable sight. But as we enjoy the view, remember that it’s also an opportunity for hospitals to flex their emergency preparedness muscle while connecting with communities throughout the state.
Let me know what you think and what you’re doing on the 21st.
P.S. — In Jefferson City, event planners have scheduled a Sunday night concert on the Capitol steps featuring a Pink Floyd tribute band. What are they playing? What else – Dark Side of the Moon.
Herb B. Kuhn
MHA President and CEO
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