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Reviewing emergency management plans, festival details, how to view the eclipse, and more

JASON CHANEY - Grocery stores, such as Ray's Food Place, have stocked up on extra water to sell to eclipse viewers.

After months and months of preparation, discussion and anticipation, the 2017 solar eclipse is about to grace the Crook County community as it makes it swath across the United States.

Seemingly everything related to the eclipse has been discussed. What will it look like and what is the best way to see it? How many people are coming to see it? How will it affect the community?

Local government, emergency officials and business leaders have held numerous meetings in hopes of adequately answering those questions. So now that the big week is here — and the moment of the enormously hyped solar eclipse is only a few days away — we at the Central Oregonian felt it wise to recap what we have learned about the eclipse and the days leading up to the big event.

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse is a rare cosmic event that occurs when the moon passes between the path of the sun and the Earth. The last time a solar eclipse occurred in the Central Oregon area was in 1979, and that particular year, Prineville only witnessed about 95 percent of eclipse totality as opposed to the 100 percent totality expected this time. Making the 2017 occurrence even more special, this eclipse cuts across the entire continental United States.

How to watch it?

It is never safe to look directly at the sun's rays — even if the sun is partly obscured. When watching a partial eclipse, you must wear eclipse glasses at all times if you want to face the sun, or use an alternate indirect method. This also applies during a total eclipse up until the time when the sun is completely and totally blocked.

What else will you see or experience?

People watching the eclipse in Crook County can expect to see some weird stuff during the three hours the cosmic event takes place and particularly during the approximately two minutes of totality where the moon completely blocks the sun. Dr. Scott Fisher, a physics professor at University of Oregon, mentioned several oddities the event creates in the natural environment.

Two of those effects involve the appearance of shadows. Fisher explained that the total duration of the solar eclipse will last about three hours, likely starting around 9 a.m., with totality occurring around 10:20 a.m. and the event concluding just before noon.

During the minutes leading up to totality, he said the shadows will take on the shape of the crescent sun as it's covered by the moon. The effect is most easily witnessed in an area where there is a cluster of little light patches rather than with larger shadows.

As totality occurs, two other unusual phenomena transpire, one of which is known as shadow bands.

"For maybe just 30 seconds or so before totality happens … the shadows actually look like you are looking through a pool of water. The shadows themselves will ripple even though you are not moving," Fisher said. "It happens because right in those last few seconds when the moon is about to cover the entire disc (sun), a little bit of light sort of gets bent around the moon. That light interferes with itself, but you get these really cool-looking shadow bands."

Also, during a minute-long stretch near totality, some people will be able to not only see shadows pass across the landscape quickly, they will pass from west to east rather than east to west. Fisher said this phenomenon will be easiest to see for people situated near a west-facing, wide-open expanse of land.

Local eclipse viewers will also experience some unique changes in weather as well as some events more typically associated with nightfall. Around 9 a.m., the sky will gradually darken as more and more of the sun is covered by the moon. Then, as totality nears, the sky gets much darker, to the point where the stars will come out.

As the rare morning darkness hits, people can expect the temperature to suddenly drop around 5 to 10 degrees.

Emergency preparedness

Emergency personnel from Crook, Jefferson and Deschutes counties have joined forces as part of a multi-agency coordination effort comprised of incident management teams. All police departments, sheriff's offices and fire departments from each of the counties have organized and developed a communication plan to respond to a variety of needs that might crop up during the week surrounding the eclipse.

Objectives to be met during the eclipse include protecting the health and safety of the public and responders, protecting sensitive areas to minimize impact to the environment, cultural, economic resources and property, implementing traffic routes, establishing interoperable radio communications with all agencies and establishing lifeline routes and provide needed transportation for logistics and staging.

Crook County Fire and Rescue has requested additional funds from the City of Prineville and Crook County to pay for additional ambulance coverage throughout the fire district. The ambulances will be stationed in various areas to improve medical response as it is needed.

To keep people apprised of emergency information throughout the duration of the eclipse event, the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network has created a blog that can be found at http://coemergencyinfo.blogspot.com/.

Traffic control

The Oregon Department of Transportation, which oversees all state and federal highways in Oregon, will handle the lion's share of the traffic issue throughout Central Oregon's various communities.

"We are going to have people stationed basically every four to five miles," said Peter Murphy, public information officer for ODOT's Region 4. "When I say that, I don't mean they are going to be stationary, they will be pre-positioned and responding up and down the Highway 97 corridor. We will also have people between Redmond and Mitchell who will be on the road with the objective in mind of keeping it as clear as it can be."

While ODOT works to keep the highways clear, the Crook County Road Department and City of Prineville Public Works Department will team up to help keep traffic moving in Prineville and throughout the county.

Unlike ODOT, the two agencies intend to keep personnel at a central location and be prepared to respond to situations as they arise.

Crook County Road Master Bob O'Neal said they will wait for calls and help pull cars off of the road, set up road blocks or do whatever else is needed throughout the duration of the event.

City Street Supervisor Scott Smith said they will suspend road construction projects as well, with no work taking place after Wednesday, Aug. 16. Public works staff will meanwhile stick to day-to-day tasks and be on hand to pitch in where needed.

Changes to hours of operation

The Eclipse Task Force recommends that businesses that provide non-essential services or services that may not directly benefit from the extra traffic consider having diminished hours or closing on Monday, Aug. 21, primarily due to concerns about traffic and the safety of people getting to and from work on those days.

"All non-essential departments in the county are closed (Aug. 21), and all of the essential departments such as the police department, the sheriff's office, myself with the health department, we will all still be operating normally," said Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Vicky Ryan.

The Lutheran Community Services office will be closed that day, however, their hotline will operate. The Circuit Court will be open even though the Crook County Courthouse will be closed. The Crook County Library and the Crook County Health Department will both be closed Aug. 21.

That Monday is an optional work day for employees at Prineville City Hall.

"We're not sure at this time whether or not we're going to open the doors," City Recorder Lisa Morgan said. "If we don't have enough staff that can make it through the congestion that they're anticipating, if it is as bad they say it's going to be, then we probably won't open the doors, but we may have a few available by phone."

The Prineville Soroptimist Senior Center will be closed Friday, Aug. 18 through Tuesday, Aug. 22. Senior Center Coordinator Melody Kendall said she didn't want seniors driving in all of the traffic, and she did not want her home delivery drivers trying to go back and forth all over town delivering meals.

However, just because the Senior Center is closed doesn't mean seniors who rely on the center's meals will have to go without.

"Because I don't want my home delivery people in particular going that long without anything, on the Thursday before, we're going to send out three meals instead of one," Kendall said.

Due to the anticipated increase in traffic, garbage collection for all Prineville Disposal customers in Crook County will begin at midnight through Friday, Aug. 25. Collection days will not change, they will just be earlier.

Crook County businesses, meanwhile, are planning to make a variety of changes to their hours, depending on the type of business they operate.

"We've heard the spectrum," said Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Casey Kaiser. "Some businesses are shortening their hours or closing and other businesses are actually extending their hours."

Special events

Although Crook County approved several eclipse-related mass gatherings of 1,000 or more people, only three remain in force going into this weekend.

The biggest event by far is Symbiosis, a festival put on by California-based Symbiotic Experiences. The organization was granted approval for a weeklong event on Big Summit Prairie, Aug. 17-23, for up to 35,000 people.

The festival is featuring five stages, two food areas, and two water tanks, and is billed as "an educational conference and festival-style event featuring a total solar eclipse, music, art and presentations with an ecological timeline."

Symbiotic Experiences is expecting to feature several dozen acts during the weeklong festival, including live bands, world music, and the spectrum of house, techno, bass, downtempo and trance. Workshops will be held as well as yoga and dance classes, and permaculture and cooking classes.

Moonshadow Festival will take place at Wine Down Ranch, a 2,100-acre family-owned cattle ranch 12 miles northeast of Prineville, Aug. 18-22. The event will offer food and drink vendors, artisans, yoga instruction, plein air paint and sip classes, and four days of musical entertainment. The festival also seeks to provide visitors the "traditional Western ranch experience" with working ranch demonstrations, cowboy storytelling, farm tours, guided hikes and stargazing.

Festival organizers are offering four-night outdoor, dry camping for tents, trailers and RVs and single-day visitor passes for those who live nearby and do not need to camp.

In Powell Butte, the Camping the Eclipse gathering is open Aug. 17-21, offering RV camping and food vendors for about 1,000 people.

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