As thousands of people prepare to descend upon Greenville to view the total eclipse on Aug. 21, Greenville’s public safety agencies — from police to fire to emergency medical services — are preparing for every kind of emergency under the sun.
From increased traffic and, potentially, more wrecks to roof collapses caused by too many people getting on top of buildings that cannot structurally handle the load, to overloaded wireless networks, police and fire officials have been prepping for a once-in-a-lifetime event.
South Carolina is expected to be one of the best places from which to see the eclipse. There will be a total eclipse in a 70-mile swath that will include three major cities — Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston — at around 2:40 p.m. The total eclipse is expected to start at 2:38 p.m. and last 2 minutes and 10 seconds in Greenville.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said the estimated number of visitors ranges from 50,000 to 500,000. Hotels are booked, although Miller said that happens with some regularity in Greenville.
Greenville officials say one of the biggest concerns is people gathering on rooftops that are not engineered for rooftop gatherings. The extra weight can cause buildings to be structurally undermined, potentially causing a roof collapse.
“We’re really discouraging rooftop events,” Miller said.
If somebody insists on having a rooftop event, planners should have the fire marshal inspect their roofs to determine how many people can be safety accommodated, Miller said.
The top deck of two of Greenville’s parking garages will be open for pedestrians during the eclipse — the Commons garage adjacent to the Hyatt and the Poinsett garage. All of the other garage’s top floors will be sealed off and staffed to prevent people from going up to them, Miller said. “The load of people moving around is different than the load caused by cars traveling to park,” he said.
Police will patrol areas where eclipse viewers are expected to gather.
As far as traffic goes, Miller said motorists who want to view the eclipse are asked to pull into a parking lot, not just onto the shoulder of the road. If one driver pulls onto the shoulder, others will do the same and the slow proximity of cars increases the chance of a distracted driver running off the road and causing a multi-vehicle wreck
Lastly, Miller urges people to download the Greenville Police Department’s mobile app so they can still receive notifications of emergencies and detours in case wireless networks are taxed too much by people trying to live stream or post eclipse photographs to social media sites.
“In the area where there will be the greatest concentration of people, we will have the least capacity for cell service,” he said. Local and state officials have asked Verizon to increase bandwidth along the path of totality, Miller said.