News

Eclipse crowds may overwhelm some modern technology

Posted August 5

DUBOIS, Wyo. — If you're among the thousands likely to flock to Idaho and Wyoming for the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21, you might need paper money and folding maps instead of credit cards and cellphones.

Twila Blakeman, mayor of the tiny town of Dubois, Wyoming, is worried about the days surrounding Aug. 21.

"Estimates of the crowds we're supposed to have are scary," she said.

Modern technology might be what people will be talking about, she predicted.

"We know the cellphones will go down," Blakeman said.

Millions of people are likely to travel into the narrow zone, coast-to-coast, where the total eclipse is actually visible. There's no question almost all of them will be using cellphones. Cell networks could get overloaded. Some may go down, possibly for days.

In Jackson Wyoming, no one knows how big a problem it will be for travelers.

"I mean, we're telling people definitely to plan on not having communications," said Carl Pelletier, Jackson's public information officer. "It's one thing to consider, kind of a backup plan. It's a good plan to have."

In eastern Idaho, it's considered a virtual certainty that cellphones will go down. That's exactly what happened a year ago when cellphone service got overloaded during a wildfire.

"We anticipate the cellphone coverage to die," said Idaho Falls Fire Chief Dave Hanneman, "because there's just going to be too many people."

Could ATMs also go down? And what else could fail?

"Well, the internet could go down for all of the stores that run credit cards," said Sherri Schumann, who works at the Pit-Stop Travel Center in Dubois.

The Eastern Idaho Public Health Agency is warning visitors from other states to be ready for electronic disruptions.

"Be prepared to be able to take care of yourself," said Mike Taylor of Eastern Idaho Public Health. "Have your own maps, maybe a hard copy."

Schumann suggests being prepared to use cash instead of a credit card.

"Cash is going to be the go-to," Taylor agreed.

Some business people think the worries are overblown and predict that disruptions on Aug. 21 won't be serious.

"No, the only thing I'm worried about is running out of ice," said Dubois businessman Dave Gaddis. "And that's going to happen probably about 9 o'clock in the morning."

One bit of modern technology may work all too well for some people — automatic streetlights. In many small towns, they'll turn on by themselves during the total eclipse and possibly dampen the spectacle of daytime darkness.

"We have about 225 lights that are going to come on once it gets dark out," Pelletier said. "Is that going to be a problem? I don't really think it is."

But Mayor Blakeman said, "It's kind of a big deal. But they can't turn them off. They would have to go through and turn each one individually off because they're a photo cell."

As the saying goes, "This too shall pass." In 2 minutes or so, the sun will come back and the streetlights will go out.

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