Oregon: Lessons learned from 2017 Solar Eclipse

NOCoE, Oregon DOT

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse moved west to east across the United States, covering fourteen states. This was a special event that required extensive planning by transportation agencies across the united states. It is important to look back at the 2017 Total Eclipse to see how state and local agencies managed the traffic operations for the traveling public.

The National Operations Center of Excellence will play an active role by being the facilitator in gathering the after action reports, action plan reports, and coordination plan reports. In six years, on April 8, 2024, we will have another total solar eclipse in the U.S. The totality starts at Mexico, crosses U.S. in a diagonal from Texas to Maine, and passes through Canada. NOCoE intends to be the main point of reference for transportation agencies by creating a national repository for the 2024 solar eclipse.

In April 2018, NOCoE hosted a virtual peer exchange where representatives from 10 agencies described their findings and observations about the 2017 solar eclipse in an online web meeting. As a proceeding to the peer exchange, NOCoE has created a dedicated webpage for each state to gather the agency’s lessons learned and findings on the 2017 solar eclipse. The below content includes the information gathered from the state of Oregon.

ODOT Concerns

ODOT concerns for the solar eclipse included:

  • Traffic safety
  • Traffic management and movement
  • Emergency vehicle response ingress and egress
  • Traffic bottlenecks and choke points
  • Weather conditions
  • Wildfire conditions
  • Communications – PIO, JIC and Messaging
  • And the list goes on… food, water, fuel, first aid stations, comfort stations etc.

What ODOT did to prepare for the event? (part 1)

  • ODOT worked with the Office of Emergency Management and other key state agencies to plan and prepare for this event.
  • Key ODOT divisions were brought together as an Eclipse Working Group to manage planning and response efforts for the department.
    • Highway – Maintenance and Operations, Regions and Districts
    • Rail/Public Transit
    • Traffic
    • Motor Carrier
    • DMV
    • Communications – PIO, JIC, Messaging
    • Safety

What ODOT did to prepare for the event? (Cont.)

  • Beginning almost a year out ODOT participated in briefing meetings with the Office of Emergency Management and the other key state agencies.
  • Maintenance and Operations (MOB) facilitated regular working group planning meetings and gathered the plans each of the divisions developed
  • The MOB compiled all of the individual plans into a Statewide Department plan for the Eclipse which was published and distributed in June
  • ODOT participated in the State ECC activation and activated our Agency Operations Center and the Region EOCs for the event

ODOT’s Communications

  • 9 months out ODOT joined statewide communications team
  • Had to ‘wrassle’ with tourism’s “keep ‘em coming” message
  • Our knee-jerk message: “Stop ‘em coming, our roads can’t hold ‘em”
  • Middle ground found: We embraced Tourism’s goal

“People will have a good time visiting Oregon,

and will want to come back.”

  • Now our messaging could focus on preparation
  • Now our messaging could be positive

ODOT’s Positive Messaging and Poetry

  1. “Arrive early; stay put; leave late.”
  2. “Plan to have a good time watching the eclipse. Plan ahead, so you will.”
  3. “This isn’t a game day. Treat the eclipse as a 3-day event, not a 3-hour event.

“If you wait to arrive

You’ll be late on the drive

And miss the celestial lights.

If you hurry to leave

You’ll surely feel peeved

Stick around and see all our sights.”

Expectations Vs Actuals (part 1)

–Arrivals came from different areas than we had assumed

•Assumed the majority of people would come from the Portland and Puget Sound regions (3-6 hour travel)

–These folks listened to our “come early, stay late” messaging

•In reality, the majority of arrivals came from the California Bay Area (8-10 hour travel)

•The further they traveled, the more they wanted to get to the center of the path

–Departures occurred all at once

•Within minutes of the eclipse ending, roadways became oversaturated

Expectations Vs Actuals (Continued)

–Coordination with local jurisdiction, EMS, and event planners was critical

•Sharing of information proved to be highly beneficial for all parties

–Some event planners had trouble living up to promises

•Overselling of events

–In some cases, over double what they anticipated

•Lack of traffic control implementation

–Traffic control plans were developed with the aid of ODOT, but the event planners correctly implementing them was another story

•Poor directions given to their customers

–Event pamphlets/tickets failed to inform customers of the correct route to use in order to access the event property based on the developed traffic control plans

Lessons Learned (part 1)

–Messaging works

•Locals paid attention and changed habits based on the messaging we sent to them

•Messaging was done via TV, radio, social media, ect….

–Two lane highways

•Passing lanes became major congestion points when the highway was oversaturated

–Pre-staging of incident response crews was highly beneficial

•Allowed for quick responses, clearing of incidents, and the relocating of portable cameras and message boards

    Lessons Learned (Cont.)

    –Data is key for situational awareness

    •Installation of new permanent cameras and portable cameras was a huge asset

    •Near real time volume data

    –Greatly aided in signal timing changes

    –Allowed for making informed changes such as asset placements

    •Real time travel-time data

    –Tripcheck (ODOT interactive map)

    »Aided in informing travelers

    –iPeMS

    »Easily obtained speed and travel time data

    »Disseminating this data to the public was harder

    What We Would Change

    –Get zip code data from event providers

    •This includes requesting that event providers require zip code data at the time of the sale of tickets

    –Do this early on in the planning process!

    –Close passing lanes ahead of time

    –Improve ways to disseminate travel time data to the public

      Resources to Share with 2024 States

      –Mapping that we developed and provided to local jurisdictions and event providers

      –Spread sheet templates for comparing actual volumes to historical volumes

      –iPeMS routes


      Operations Area of Practice

      • Interagency Agreements / Cooperation / MOUs
      • Planning for Operations
      • Planned Special Events Traffic Management

      Organizational Capability Element

      • Evaluation of Operations Strategies
      • Freeway Operations
      • Planned Special Event Management

      Content Type

      • Case Studies & Lessons Learned

      Publishing Organization

      • NOCoE

      Document Downloads

      Issue Date
      April 9th, 2018
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