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Indiana University and Bloomington: Eclipse-ready in the path of totality

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Indiana University and local public safety officials combine safety and educational efforts.

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Susan Vineyard)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Susan Vineyard)

People are understandably excited about the total solar eclipse that will take place on April 8. In light of that, the faculty at the Indiana University (IU) School of Optometry have been working hard since they got a heads-up with the approach of the previous solar event, the Great American Eclipse, in 2017.

The upcoming solar event in Bloomington will begin with partial coverage at 1:49:11 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time. Full coverage begins at 3:04:52 pm and ends at 3:08:54 for a total duration of totality of 4 minutes, 2 seconds. The end of the partial eclipse will be at 4:22:29 pm.

This time, with Bloomington smack in the middle of the path of totality, the eye care providers are laser-focused on advising the University population and the community at large on the best ways to avoid ocular damage, while still enjoying and learning from the eclipse.

Katie Connolly, OD, FAAO, clinical associate professor, Chief, Pediatric and Binocular Vision Services, and Director, Myopia Management Clinic, Atwater Eye Care Center, Bloomington, described that the eye care team has been preparing since the partial eclipse by being very actively and frequently involved in discussions in the community.

While everyone should be able to enjoy this unique solar event, Connolly wants viewers to remain as safe as possible.

For Connolly, community involvement is the name of the game.

“We have done a great deal of community outreach. We have a faculty member who has been designated as our ‘eclipse expert,’ who is doing outreach in the community and around the university campus. He also has been speaking about eclipse safety on the national stage,” she explained.

The faculty members at the university have also spent a great deal of time learning about how to enjoy the eclipse using the best safety practices.

IU has a task force on campus and there is another at the state level. “Indiana has done a great deal to prepare for this not only by preparing the individuals who will view the eclipse but also to ensure the safety of the hundreds of thousands of people who will have traveled to Indiana to view the event from the most advantageous point,” Connolly stated.

Eclipse guru

Hin Cheung, OD, PhD, clinical assistant professor, IU School of Optometry, has been fully focused on disseminating information about the eclipse through a number of different routes.

He prepared information on the School of Optometry’s website that can be downloaded or shared. These informational brochures are being handed out to patients and individuals in the local community. The topics covered include the University’s public safety plan, eclipse tips and facts, and information about best viewing locations, among others.

Cheung also has prepared a question-and-answer article on commonly asked questions on ocular protection during the eclipse.

“The best way to protect your eyes during a partial eclipse is to either view the eclipse indirectly using a pinhole projector or to view it directly with an eclipse viewer. When the sun is completely covered by the moon during totality, it is safe to remove eye protection and enjoy the view,” he commented.

Eclipse viewers have special filters that block the harmful light and radiation levels from the sun and allow a small fraction of that through the filter, limiting solar ultraviolet A and B radiation to a maximum of 0.0032% and solar infrared radiation to a maximum of 3%. Viewers considered safe must comply with the requirements of the International Organization for Standardization; those that meet the requirement are labeled clearly: ISO 12312-2 (sometimes written as ISO 12312-2:2015).

Safe and legitimate eclipse viewers can be obtained from a local library or science center or local astronomy clubs. Cheung also recommends using the American Astronomical Society website to obtain their endorsed list of vendors.

On the flip side of the coin, the following are improper forms of eye protection: wearing 1 or more pairs of sunglasses, smoked glass, photo film negatives, X-ray film, polarizing filters, neutral density filters, and damaged eclipse viewers.

Cheung also has prepared a 1-hour webinar as a continuing education program entitled “Optometrist’s Guide for Safely Viewing the Eclipse” for the Indiana Optometric Association (IOA) and will do so again for the IU School of Medicine. For any ODs interested, they can register to get online CE through the IOA.

He is also involved in a webinar in March as part of the College of Arts and Sciences livestream series. This will also be recorded and available on YouTube to hopefully reach as wide of an audience as possible.

Catherine Cheng, PhD, associate professor at the School of Optometry, is involved in the Girls in Engineering, Math, and Sciences directed at 5th and 6th grade girls to promote STEM careers. She will distribute the brochures on eye safety and provide eclipse viewers to the attendees.

Community involvement

The following is what community leaders have done and recommend.

Local community leaders had the opportunity to meet with a group of experts who provided monthly workshops beginning last fall. Cheung covered the ocular safety aspect, astronomy experts explained the sciences of the eclipse, and biology experts who talked about animal and plant behavior during an eclipse. Information from the Department of Astronomy is available online.

The same experts from the workshops held in the fall are each doing a webinar in their area of expertise and will answer live questions from the alumni community.

Pediatric focus

The Bloomington community leaders are dedicated to protecting the city’s pediatric population. The community leaders helped to disseminate the information they received at the monthly workshops. The people who attended included representatives from K-12 teachers, public libraries and tourism boards of Bloomington and surrounding counties, Department of Natural Resources, IU Center for Rural Engagement, Girl Scouts of Southern Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College, local museums such as WonderLab and kidscommons, and local news media WTIU/WFIU.

The community leaders, now trained, in turn trained additional people and spread the education locally. Emphasis was placed on advising parents and guardians to pay special attention to children during the eclipse to make sure they are using solar filters properly to avoid solar retinopathy, which could have life-long consequences.

Eclipse preparedness

The public safety officials also emphasized preparedness and patience. In addition to using appropriate eclipse viewers or glasses, they urged the public to plan a location from which to view the eclipse; allow for extra travel time to and from eclipse events; fully fill gas tanks or charge electric vehicles in advance of travel and plan for routes with gas stations or charging stations along the way; pack snacks, water, prescription medications and an emergency kit in all vehicles; and secure necessary child and pet care to plan for the day.

Public safety measures

Preparing to respond to the influx of visitors will require maximal effort from law enforcement and emergency personnel, and agencies are anticipating full staffing over eclipse weekend. Emergency operations centers will be opened throughout Monroe County, where IU is located, and on campus to mitigate and manage issues that arise.

Safety agencies are expecting an increased number of calls to 911 dispatch centers and strains on cellular networks and Wi-Fi infrastructures. While they will coordinate efforts as much as possible, resources will be stretched.

Indiana State Police will maintain traffic along state highways across the path of totality.

Like other agencies, Bloomington Police Department and Bloomington Fire Department will provide robust and additional staffing April 6 to 8. They will implement expanded technology and communications equipment to maintain continued service while managing increased risks related to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Bloomington will also activate its after-hours ambassadors to facilitate hospitality and outreach efforts downtown. Due to safety concerns, viewing the eclipse from the top levels of parking garages will not be allowed.

IU Public Safety plans to have first-aid and information stations in 3 locations on campus. Road closure information will be made public in the coming weeks. Officers will use bicycles, motorcycles, and golf carts to maneuver around traffic and will also pre-stage police vehicles along key corridors to assist with traffic congestion.

Eclipse events and information

Celebratory and educational events are planned throughout the state leading up to and on the day of the total eclipse. They include the Celestial Spectacle in Bloomington, the Hoosier Cosmic Celebration at Memorial Stadium, IU Science Fest on the Bloomington campus, and the Lunacy! Solar Eclipse Festival at White River State Park, presented by IU Indianapolis. Each event’s website provides more information.

The Hoosier Cosmic Celebration at Memorial Stadium at IU will feature 10-time Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, and actress Janelle Monáe, and appearances by William Shatner and Mae Jemison, America's first woman of color to travel to space.

Science Fest will happen on April 6 to educate the public and families about the science of the eclipse.

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