By Todd James, Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer and Executive Director from the Ohio Buckeye Region
I recently had the opportunity to serve as part of the Red Cross preparedness operations team in Kentucky as part of the Great American Eclipse.
Many people will ask, “What does the Red Cross have to do with an eclipse?”
Well, whenever there is a large public event such as the Super Bowl, a national political convention, or in this case, an eclipse, the Red Cross is part of the planning process with local, state and federal officials. It takes a lot of work to be prepared for large crowds of people coming into an area. In this case, over 7 million people were expected to visit the 12 states in the path of totality to see the eclipse. This had the potential to overwhelm local infrastructure in many communities, especially here in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where the point of greatest eclipse took place.
The Red Cross has been planning, for over a year, for single this event.
In Kentucky, where I served, 21 counties were in the path of totality and hundreds of thousands of people were expected to visit the area in the days leading up to the eclipse.
What if a natural disaster occurred during this period? The possible need for sheltering and feeding was a big concern. Many people may have had to sleep in their cars!
This is storm season! A severe storm or tornado would be devastating in normal circumstances, but could be catastrophic with thousands more people than usual in the area. Severe heat is also common in the area at this time of year. The Kentucky Red Cross spent months making sure shelter locations were secured and inspected. They loaded trailers with shelter supplies and moved them to strategic locations, ready to be moved to town shelters where needed. Red Cross volunteers signed up to be available and ready at a moment’s notice to open shelters and provide care and comfort.
Prior to the event, the Red Cross coordinated safety and preparedness messaging with emergency management officials to let people traveling to view the eclipse know what they could do to make their trip a safe one.
All this work led up to August 21, the day of the eclipse.
So, what happened? Nothing! Millions of people made their way to their destination, viewed the eclipse and returned home safely. There were no major incidents or disasters. Our teams went home without having to open a single shelter. And that’s just the way we wanted it! Preparedness is key to the Red Cross mission. We’re constantly training, preparing and collaborating with our partners, so when a disaster happens, we are ready to respond immediately. But, sometimes, our best days are the ones when we don’t do anything but wait.