How to view the eclipse safely

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 9, 2016 file photo, people wearing protective glasses look up at the sun to watch a solar eclipse in Jakarta, Indonesia. Doctors say not to look at the sun without eclipse glasses or other certified filters except during the two minutes or so when the moon completely blots out the sun, called totality. That's the only time it's safe to view the eclipse without protection. When totality is ending, then it's time to put them back on.

As eclipse viewers prepare to look toward the sky on Aug. 21, local public safety agencies and medical professionals are urging caution.

From special glasses to staying safe on the roads to preventing forest fires, here are some tips to enjoy the best viewing experience for yourself and those around you.

Eye Safety

Several local groups have been selling eclipse glasses, but it’s important to understand why viewers need to protect their eyes during the eclipse.

“The sun is never good to stare at, but during the eclipse, it’s almost like it creates a magnifying effect, almost like if you were burning leaves or ants,” said Hermiston mayor David Drotzmann, a doctor at Lifetime Vision Source. He compared it to getting a sunburn on your eyes — but with everlasting effects.

“If you burn your skin, it’ll repair itself,” he said. “But retina tissue is neurological tissue, like in the brain. If you kill neurological tissue, it doesn’t regrow.”

He noted that looking directly at the eclipse can cause lasting damage to a person’s eyesight.

Eclipse glasses, he said, have an intense tint that allow viewers to safely look at the sun. They are so dark, he said, viewers shouldn’t be able to see anything but the sun through them.

He also said the glasses need to be approved and stamped with the certification ISO-12312-2.

He said some eclipse glasses being sold have been found to be fake, and people should be careful to check beforehand.

“If you can put on the glasses and you can see, they’re probably phony,” he said.

Drotzmann said that by no means should people use sunglasses or welder’s goggles to view the eclipse, as doing so can damage vision.

He said he and his staff had sold about 300 glasses from their office and had run out of their supply. They plan to watch the eclipse, too.

“We’ll take a break from our work schedules, put our glasses on, and go out and watch,” he said.

Travel Safety

The crowds this weekend are expected to be overwhelming, and travelers are advised to plan ahead and be prepared for many hours on the road in slow-moving traffic.

The American Red Cross recommends that people keep several emergency items in their vehicles, such as bottled water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, cell phone chargers, batteries and a battery-powered radio. They also recommend keeping a first-aid kit, necessary medications, personal hygiene items, blankets and jumper cables in the vehicle. Travelers are encouraged to keep cash, an emergency map of the area in which they’ll be viewing the eclipse, and emergency contact information written on a card in the vehicle.

Fire Prevention

Oregon has already experienced a spate of wildfires this summer, and the crowds coming for the eclipse will put the state at extra risk. Most state parks are already under fire restriction, but Oregon State Parks will be under an open flame/fire restriction beginning August 16. The ban is temporary, but geared toward creating new problems for the already busy fire crews.

Charcoal briquettes, tiki-style torches, candles and campfires or anything with an open flame are all prohibited. Only sources that can be turned off instantly will be allowed, like propane stoves and propane fire pits.

Additionally, the Governor’s Office urged viewers to be careful about extinguishing cigarettes and parking on dry grass, which could spark a fire. Drivers should carry a fire extinguisher, a shovel, and water in their vehicles in case they need to extinguish a fire.

Several organizations, both local and statewide, are preparing for the event as they would any emergency.

The Red Cross will work with local emergency agencies, and prepare with cots, blankets and water. They will also have volunteers and resources available to help people in distress, if necessary. If communication channels are compromised, the Red Cross plans to use ham radio or emergency cell channels.

The Umatilla County Emergency Management Department is treating the event as an opportunity to prepare for a major emergency, such as the Cascadia earthquake. In that situation, an influx of people from the west side of the state would be coming to Eastern Oregon, so the county will be using the event as a way to learn about how it can best deal with those large crowds.

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