Managing eclipse traffic with location intelligence

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be visible in the mainland United States for the first time in nearly 40 years. This rare cosmic spectacle is expected to draw millions of people to the 70-mile-wide shadow that will be cast along the eclipse's path from Oregon to South Carolina.

An event this momentous -- one that comes once in a generation -- presents unique challenges for public safety agencies. This eclipse with its high  level of media attention and public engagement, has the potential to spur the largest traffic jam in history.

State and local governments have their work cut out for them even without big events, given the daily hurdles of traffic management, the disruption caused by inclement weather and emergency-response duties. Add to all this the expected crowds traveling to see the show -- estimated to be anywhere between 1.85 and 7.4 million people -- and it becomes crucial for government agencies to have real-time situational awareness of personnel, resources  and highway infrastructures. Knowing who and what are at risk is critical, but knowing where problems may occur enables a robust and cohesive response to any situation that might arise. 

Spatial-analytics technology transforms critical data into easy-to-understand online maps, giving public safety agencies the advantage of real-time situational awareness. The information that personnel see is not only mapped but continuously analyzed and updated so decisions can be made more accurately. For rural areas that are not used to heavy population influxes -- as in the case of the upcoming solar eclipse -- having up-to-the-moment, reliable data is imperative.

User-friendly web applications, with relevant data layers for use by government personnel, have made massive public events manageable. These apps integrate road data with census information about regional populations and can provide useful layers for event maps that show how many people will be entering prime eclipse viewing areas and on which highways. Through predictive analyses, these layers show the number of people, their distance from an event and their estimated travel time from a given point. This gives public safety agencies a better understanding of where visitors will go so they can mitigate potential traffic chokepoints.

These online tools allow governments to create and manage road closures, view impact summaries and hazard assessments, locate and coordinage eclipse-viewing events, review permits and report on health and safety. A situational-awareness viewer can also be deployed, incorporating Waze alerts, road closures  and local law enforcement and fire station locations into data about the eclipse's totality path and duration.

For instance, Oregon -- the first state in the contiguous United States where people can witness the eclipse -- has developed the RAPTOR app. This online government resource adds the path of totality and other eclipse-event layers to its situational awareness data. RAPTOR also allows users to quickly and easily digitize information from these events and put them onto maps, providing agencies with up-to-the-moment information on everything from traffic to weather. This kind of preparedness is important for Oregon, because it is one of the most populous states in the path of totality and is expected to receive more out-of-state visitors than ever on the day of the eclipse.

Not only do real-time situational awareness apps give state government agencies solutions for dealing with unprecedented public safety challenges, but these tools provide a way for municipalities to work together to deal with large-scale issues like wildfires or floods. Using location intelligence can help governments prevent problems, so citizens can sit back and enjoy the show.

About the Author

Chris McIntosh is the disaster/emergency management industry manager for Esri.

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