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Emergency services have prepared for the eclipse for months. Here’s what you need to know

A person holding a pair of eclipse glasses up to their face, looking up and smiling.
Robert A. Martin for Germanna Community College
The department said the eclipse is an “all-hands-on-deck” event for first responders. The path of totality will stretch 115 miles wide and will cover most of the state — making Indiana a great place to travel to view the “historic” event.

The total solar eclipse in April is expected to last anywhere from 30 seconds to about four minutes — but emergency services throughout the state have been preparing for the event for months. The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which oversees emergency services, said the biggest challenge will be the influx of people into the state.

The department said the eclipse is an “all-hands-on-deck” event for first responders. The path of totality will stretch 115 miles wide and will cover most of the state — making Indiana a great place to travel to view the “historic” event.

Kraig Kinney, the emergency medical services director at IDHS, said the temporary increase in population puts a strain on emergency services. But the state has been collaborating with local services to prepare for any emergencies that may come up.

“If people have an emergency, then they need to activate their local 911. That's why the counties and the local governments have been preparing for some time," he said. "They have a plan. They will get to you, be patient and they will be able to help you.”

Kinney said first responders expect to see three stages of the event that pose different challenges.

The first stage is the actual eclipse, where emergency services have similar concerns to typical large gatherings. While people will most likely be stationary, there will be a lot more people than most areas are used to. What makes the eclipse unique, is this isn’t just one community dealing with crowds.

“There's really no break as the eclipse line goes across the state,” Kinney said.

Every community in the 115-mile-wide path of totality that covers most of the state will be facing the challenge at roughly the same time.

The second stage is as the eclipse concludes. Kinney said the state looked at what happened following past eclipses, and found that as people leave where they’re watching the eclipse, it can lead to heavy traffic. This not only means people may be stuck on the roads for longer than they expected, but it can also make reaching people in an emergency difficult.

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Kinney said local EMS have brainstormed a variety of ways to address this issue, including ATVs to reach areas that may be difficult to access in emergency vehicles.

“The next step they would look at is does everyone need transported and do they need transported to a hospital,” Kinney said. “We're seeing a lot of communities looking at setting up clinics or tents, where people that have more minor complaints may be able to be looked at by a physician, nurses and even EMS in the actual tent area or clinic versus having to transport to a hospital.”

This stage is also where Kinney said people need to make sure they’re considering.

“Contemplate, ‘What if I get stuck in traffic for three to four hours? Will I need food?” Kinney said. “And therefore have something with you. Have fruit, have a meal, whatever you need, but have your medications and your food with you so that way you can try to prevent any type of medical emergency due to being stuck in traffic.”

Kinney said some people might experience anxiety due to being stuck in traffic. He recommends people consider if they need to leave immediately. Some communities have put together events that go beyond the eclipse so people can choose to leave whenever they feel most comfortable.

The third stage is about 24 hours out, when people who didn’t wear proper protective eyewear may experience damage to their eyes.

“That poses a risk if they're driving or something else and suddenly their eyesight is compromised, then we could end up with incidents and accidents related to that,” Kinney said.

READ MORE: Expert weighs in on the dangers of looking at the solar eclipse

Kinney said that it’s important to make sure people get their eclipse glasses from a reputable distributor to avoid potential damage.

He also said the best thing people can do to support first responders is to think through their eclipse plan.

“Obviously, I assume most people plan where they want to be, where they want to go," Kinney said. "Consider your exit route and also plan accordingly,” Kinney said.

All of Indiana will see at least a partial eclipse on April 8 in the afternoon. The time of totality varies by location, but will begin roughly around 3 p.m. ET and will be finished everywhere in the state by 3:15 p.m. ET.

Find more information about viewing the eclipse in your area on the Indiana Department of Homeland Security's website.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.

Abigail Ruhman covers statewide health issues. Previously, they were a reporter for KBIA, the public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Ruhman graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.