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Council has its eyes set on preparing for 2024 total solar eclipse

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 by Chad Swiatecki

With Austin in the direct path of a rare solar eclipse that will take place April 8, 2024, city departments will soon begin preparing for many thousands of astronomy tourists who are expected to travel to Central Texas to get the best view possible. With the eclipse not expected to reoccur in the area for another 400 years, public officials are bracing for a truly once-in-a-lifetime tourist event.

On Thursday, City Council will consider a resolution focused on the eclipse, which will cause near total darkness for four minutes on a Monday afternoon and could potentially create traffic issues and unexpected emergencies throughout the area. The draft resolution directs the city manager to present a plan for all things related to the eclipse by Feb. 1, with the involvement of all relevant city departments as well as groups such as Austin Parks Foundation, Visit Austin and Austin Independent School District.

The plan is expected to address how to inform the public of the eclipse and how to safely view and experience it. Other priorities include providing access across the city for viewing opportunities, anticipating safety concerns like an anticipated spike in 911 calls and finding ways for residents and visitors to celebrate the eclipse safely.

Anticipation for the eclipse is already growing, with its occurrence the day after the city hosts the CMT Awards at the Moody Center adding to the tourism boost. Visit Austin, which tracks the hotel and hospitality business in the area, said hotels are already at least 40 percent booked for the Saturday before through the Monday of the eclipse, with room rates already 17 percent higher than the same time this year. Bookings are expected to be even more rare and costly in Fredericksburg and surrounding areas, which is 100 percent in the path of totality compared to the 80 percent coverage visible in Austin.

Council Member Alison Alter sponsored the eclipse resolution so the city could use the next five months to prepare for an event that she hopes can create a strong shared experience for the community.

“Tons of people are going to be descending on the area,” she said. “This is on a Monday in the middle of a workday, and it is going to be something where a lot of people are going to want to take part in, but also for a lot of people, it may not be on their radar either. We particularly need to make sure that we are providing information so people can be safe, whether it’s the individual wearing the appropriate eyewear or it’s our public safety professionals who are also going to need to be able to plan for any number of public safety challenges.”

Visit Austin president and CEO Tom Noonan said bookings related to the eclipse appear to have begun a year ago.

“We’re way ahead of pace where we normally would be … we started getting calls over a year ago saying what’s the city going to do?” he said. “There are a lot of folks that follow this and that travel for this, and we do expect to see a big impact in Austin in terms of hotel stays. We know it’ll be a major tourism event and it will dovetail obviously with CMT Awards as well.”

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said conversations with officials in Waco where eclipse viewers are expected to double or triple the county population for a day caused her to inquire with Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management about how to prepare public safety personnel to handle the event.

“Daylighting these issues from a Council perspective and ensuring that our expectations are met, and that they have the support of Council to go through with whatever they need to make this a successful event with limited interruptions to people’s daily lives is important,” she said. “I want them to coordinate and make sure that we have this swift response and that we prepare for things like the possibility of our 911 call center getting overloaded with calls. Because despite our best efforts to engage the community and to educate them, there are still going to be people who don’t know what the heck is going on.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license. This story has been changed since publication to correct a typo.

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