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Putting Transportation Communications at the Top of Solar Eclipse Story By Matt Hiebert

Transportation probably isn’t the first thing you think about when you mention the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.  But when you consider the fact that millions of people will be hitting the road to witness the event, you might want to change your mind. According to some estimates, Missouri could receive up to 1 million out-of-state visitors during the eclipse. Yes, that’s an extra million travelers on the state’s roads and bridges.  Such a traffic surge requires planning by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and communication plays a big role in that effort. Getting the media to understand the impact on the state’s transportation system and incorporating transportation safety messages into the narrative has become a high priority for the impacted states.

There are 14 states that are in the direct path of the total solar eclipse, but nearly all of the contiguous 48 states will see a partial solar eclipse. In an effort, to coordinate messaging, share ideas, capture media outlets and assist understaffed communications divisions, TransComm formed a Solar Eclipse Task Force. TransComm is the communications subcommittee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Chaired by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the TransComm Solar Eclipse Task Force kicked off in mid-April by assessing the current status of each state and sharing ideas. Nearly all of the impacted states joined the meeting and several states not directly in the path, but affected by potential traffic, also participated. The next step for the task force was to share tactical content and discuss communications issues.

Missouri produced several communications pieces, including a general communications plan, a “shell” press release, talking points, messages for roadside digital message boards and several social media posts that the task force members could either use in part or distribute verbatim. From that point, the 14 affected states worked with their regional law enforcement and State Emergency Management Agencies to coordinate their state-specific information. The TransComm task force is working with groups outside of the transportation field, including the StormCenter Communications Group of Broadcast Meteorologists and Radio Stations, who are compiling a communications package that will be distributed to media outlets nationwide   

The task force has also partnered with the National Operations Center for Excellence to make sure materials find the organizations and individuals who need it. The overall goal of the communications efforts is to ensure the people can view the eclipse but they are also prepared to deal with traffic issues and be safe in their travels.