Law enforcement, first responders continuing to prepare for eclipse

Apr. 4—Ashtabula County law enforcement and first responders have been preparing for next week's eclipse for months.

Mike Fitchet, director of the Ashtabula County Emergency Management Agency, said things are going well.

He said the size of crowds at the event will depend on the weather leading up to and on Monday, April 8.

"I think the information that we have available has been distributed to everybody so they can prepare," Fitchet said. "I think everybody has their plans together.

"If the weather cooperates, it'll be a beautiful day to see an eclipse in Ashtabula County."

Fitchet said he expects there to be a lot of visitors to the county if it is sunny, but if it is overcast or storming, fewer people will stop in the area.

"We're still going to have people traveling through, because they're going to somewhere, and if you're coming from the east, you've got to go on [Interstate] 90," he said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation will be putting signs up along Interstate 90 telling motorists not to stop along the road to view the eclipse.

Fitchet said he is expecting impromptu events to spring up around the county as the eclipse starts.

"Once people see [cars] pulling over or pulling in a lot or doing whatever, they're going to go, 'Oh, we can do that too,'" Fitchet said.

The EMA has compiled a map of points of interest around the county.

"We wanted to put everything out so they knew where the fire stations and hospitals and rest areas were, but also where events were going to be," he said.

Fitchet encouraged people to be patient and enjoy themselves.

"I think people just have to be careful with everything that's going on, and enjoy it," he said. "It's once in a lifetime. It'll be over very quickly."

Ashtabula County Sheriff William Niemi said his office has been working with the county EMA and surrounding agencies.

"We have extra patrols that are going to be out," he said. "Hopefully this goes without incident, but we're prepared, we've got extra manpower working."

He said his office is advising people to say something if they see anything suspicious.

"We ask people to be courteous and respectful to others on the roadways," Niemi said.

Vince Gildone, administrator of the Northwest Ambulance District, said NAD will have extra staff on hand Sunday, Monday and half a day on Tuesday, just in case.

Gildone has also been helping to coordinate the distribution of information to other first responders.

"All the agencies are aware of what could happen, the things that we anticipate, like traffic issues," he said.

The amount of visitors and traffic in the area could vary wildly, depending on the weather, Gildone said.

One of the current concerns is increased traffic from the eclipse hindering first responders getting to normal, every-day kind of calls, Gildone said.

"That's a huge concern, because they keep telling us traffic is going to be a major issue, or has potential to be a major issue," he said. "We're concerned about this, because being able to get in and out of the hospitals in a timely manner, and being able to get to your house if you call us [is important]."

Gildone said he is also concerned about the potential for drunk driving.

"A lot of these venues are going to be wineries and bar-type events," he said. "So that is a concern."

He also asked drivers to be careful with where they park, and where they leave their cars.

Increased traffic on Interstate 90 is also a concern.

"We've got to kind of keep that in mind and have a plan," Gildone said.

Gildone said the biggest event NAD handles is the Grape Jamboree in September, and the way they prepare for that event is how he is preparing for the eclipse.

"When the Grape Jamboree happens, we have extra people on duty, and that's how we're preparing for this," he said.