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Kentucky towns, EMA workers prep for bad cell service during total solar eclipse

(Ryan Brooker/WZTV)

Hopkinsville, Kentucky is expecting more than 100,000 people to watch the eclipse later this month.

With all of those people packing into a small town, cell phone coverage for emergency workers will be sparse at best.

"Eclipseville" City leaders say people from 18 countries, 46 states, and three US territories are expected to arrive in the area. As of Wednesday, that crowd will arrive in just 12 days.

Totality in Hopkinsville will be one of the longest in the country, lasting for 2 minutes 41 seconds.

Christian County EMA officials know many visitors will be on their smartphone to capture the moment on social media and will be texting, calling and using up data.

EMA worker Randy Graham said the issue with that lies during emergencies. There might not be any cell coverage left to call for help because of the volume of people tying up the rural area network.

"We've got two issues with cellular communications; capacity and coverage," Graham said. "We're in an area of the county that has limited coverage so we had to look for a solution that would take care of that."

In terms of geographic area, the total solar eclipse is "an unprecedented event" when it comes to people congregating in the same place at the same time, said Warren Salek, assistant vice president of radio access network engineering at AT&T.

“It's pretty exciting," Salek said. "This is one of the largest geographies we're ever going to cover for a single event."

While networks like AT&T often boost coverage for events like music festivals, the eclipse's "path of totality" will span a much larger area.

Unlike concerts, much of this acreage will be rural regions equipped to handle much less traffic than more developed areas.

The Christian County EMA has worked with cellular providers like AT&T and Verizon's to bring in COWs, which are cellular on wheels.

"They brought them out here to provide capacity and coverage where we were lacking," Graham said.

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