Arkansas State Senator Matt McKee expressed 2024 total solar eclipse concerns at the Governmental Affairs Committee Meeting on Friday, February 2.
Senator McKee said that there will be an influx of many visitors to the state, and places like Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village will be desirable locations to view the eclipse. Hot Springs is hosting Derby Day the weekend before the eclipse. So it is very possible it will not be a two or three-day event, but a week-long event.
The senator explained that everything from traffic congestion to cell phone service may be problematic – it is very possible that cell service will go down if the number of people we expect shows up.
- “Ambulance responses outside the City of Hot Springs may not occur.”
- “We are diligently working with the Governor’s office to make any kind of [necessary] declarations to allow our emergency responders and emergency management to co-operate with organizations outside this area to bring in the necessary resources.”
- “All of the schools will be shut down that day. The schools have been extremely helpful in offering their campuses as staging areas.”
- We may get 150,000 [visitors] people in Hot Springs, and the village is planning for increased visitors and family members. If we get that many people, there are a lot of issues that [can] come up…Your traffic accidents are going to increase.”
- “How many state troopers will be available to handle traffic accidents?
- “Are the volunteer fire departments sufficiently staffed and have the necessary resources?”
- “The lakes will be extremely busy if the weather is good, and we expect it to be. Do we need to increase marine patrols or bring in boats from the outside?”
- “Do we need to bring in additional ambulances because we still will have heart attacks and strokes [than normally occur]?”
- “There are issues that arise when you declare an emergency declaration.” Will that affect increased hotel rates? A declaration of emergency will affect businesses and disallow price gouging. The state senator said you don’t necessarily want to prevent businesses from making extra money.
“It is a moving target because we don’t actually know the number of people coming. We can look at states like Tennessee and other places that have experienced large events and see what they went through. They all say it was a disaster; ‘It was a nightmare!'”Arkansas State Senator Matt McKee
“If we are advertising Arkansas as a place to come, we must be prepared for these things. If we prepare and do everything we need to do and people don’t show up, fine then. I will be watching at my house, in my yard or driveway. I am not going anywhere. But if we don’t do what we need to do and don’t plan where resources need to be in case, we’ll be in trouble,” said McKee.
General Manager Kelly Hale said they have been planning with Garland and Saline Counties for a while now. We did meet with LifeNet…One question arose: whether the bypass would be designated as NO parking. This road needs to be kept clear for ambulances.
McKee said that parking on roads may be an issue in many places. The senator asked, “What kind of resources do you dedicate to preventing parking on the roads? “Most private security officers hired by hospitals or businesses are off-duty law enforcement officers. There will be no off-duty law enforcement officers. It comes down to resources and counties,” McKee said he believes the counties will look to the state to reimburse the extra costs incurred, if necessary.
The Arkansas National Guard is the most expensive resource, and McKee hoped this would be the last option. “With enough planning and conversations like these, we hope we put ourselves in a position so we don’t have to use the National Guard,” stated McKee.
GAC Chair Bob Pettey said that as of last Monday afternoon, the Holiday Inn on Central Avenue [Hot Springs] had one room available for the eclipse. Sunday night was $539. Monday night was $502.
Plan ahead for the groceries you need and ensure your gas tanks are full before the event. “Just have what you need and enjoy it!” exclaimed McKee.
By Cheryl Dowden
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