(Fremont County, Wyo.) - The Fremont County Sheriff's Office is in full preparation mode for the August 21, 2017 Eclipse event that will be directly impacting Fremont County and Wyoming at large.
Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker says the Sheriff's Office will see the biggest impact in their communications division. "We live and die by communications," said Hornecker. "I can have 60 additional deputies out on this event but if they can't communicate nothing can happen." The good news is the Sheriff's Office has planned well in advance as to how they'll overcome any potential communication issues.
Prior to the Sheriff's Office switching a few years ago to a digital communication system known as WyoLink, authorities worked from a conventional analog system. Carl Freeman, Director of Communications for the Sheriff's Department, maintained the old analog system. So, the Sheriff's Office will be using both systems to communicate during this event.
Freeman explained they'll be using the conventional analog system as their TAC (tactical) channel. Fremont County will be split into five divisions, much like a major fire event is split into districts, with the intent of having smaller areas for authorities to cover. The Sheriff's Office will be using the WyoLink system as well, but this system's purpose is to cover a wider area and has statewide interoperability. "We're breaking down our communication frequencies and using both systems so we don't block or interrupt each other," added Freeman. "We need all communications to flow."
The Sheriff's Office is NOT depending on one form of communication - cell phones. Both Hornecker and Freeman agree that it's highly likely cell phone usage will be impacted by this event. "We don't know the true impact of this yet, but it is a very large concern for us," said Hornecker. In fact, the Sheriff's Office's draft communication plan does not include any cell phone numbers - a pipeline of communication they normally utilize on a daily basis.
The Sheriff's Office has been preparing for the event in other ways as well. In addition to attending a multitude of planning meetings with other agencies, they'll be relying on reserve deputies and search and rescue personnel for extra coverage. Hornecker has also had a "no vacation during the eclipse" policy in place for his employees since last year. "Since we're doing this in house, we'll have to prioritize our calls for service," he said. "We might not be able to do a VIN check on that day, but I don't think it'll impact the community for serious calls of service. In fact, folks will likely feel better covered. Since we're splitting the county into divisions, a deputy will be able to reach you must faster than one normally would."
"Our priorities will be life over property and property over anything else," added Freeman.
"In general, we want the community and visitors to feel safe and enjoy this event, and it's our job to figure out what it takes to make that happen," said Hornecker. "I hope we're over-planning for this event. My goal is to plan for everything we can think of, have a contingency plan in place and at the end of the day and say 'that was easy.'"