Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Lincoln County pre-signed a declaration of emergency Monday to prepare for a possible surge of visitors to the desolate area ahead of a pair of events tied to the “Storm Area 51” phenomenon.
The County Commission also conditionally approved two event permits: Alienstock to be stationed at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel from Sept. 20-22 and the UFology Expo to be hosted Sept. 20-21 at the Alien Research Center approximately 45 minutes away in Hiko.
Between the two planned events, up to 40,000 people could invade Lincoln County, an area of around 5,000 residents, according to Lincoln County Commission Chairman Varlin Higbee, which would stretch the area’s resources thin.
“Oh, we’re taking this seriously,” Higbee said. “With the possibility of 35,000-40,000 people showing up, yeah, this is serious.”
Eric Holt, emergency manager for Lincoln County where Rachel is located, requested the commission approve the pre-signing with the threat of local resources being at risk during the pair of events.
“We asked the commissioners to pre-sign the emergency declaration form, which in the event that we deplete our resources, both emergency response and financial, we could reach out to the state for assistance,” Holt said. “We had them sign it, but we haven’t actually declared it as an emergency at this time. It’s more preparatory in the event for the time that we have to declare an emergency we don’t have to wait for the next commission meeting to happen.”
Higbee has the authority to sign that declaration at any time officials deem it necessary.
The declaring of an emergency probably would be tied to financial needs that could come with emergency and law enforcement personnel working overtime.
“We haven’t actually set a trigger point (for declaring an emergency) yet,” Higbee said. “We don’t know where or how far our resources are going to go. A lot of it is equipment and financing. The county only has so much money to deal with, and if you start paying a lot of money for overtime … your financing can go pretty fast.”
Lincoln County officials will meet with state officials Tuesday to discuss the emergency plan and logistics for the possible events, Higbee said.
Lincoln County officials have been in contact with emergency and law enforcement in neighboring counties, Clark, White Pine and Nye, and the Nevada Highway Patrol.
The permits approved for the events are conditional upon each group behind the events coming forward with their complete plans at the Sept. 3 commission meeting, Higbee said.
“They have to have their security, medical, parking plans and few other things (ready),” he said. “They have to have it in by then. It has to be cut and dry. It actually helps the county because now you got a face and a name to the event, instead of just turning people loose.”
Aside from resource depletion being a concern for residents, cellphone service disruption is also a concern for area citizens, Higbee said.
“The cellphone system is going to go down,” he said. “The landlines will still be intact. You get more than a couple of hundred people there, and it’s going to crash. Cell service won’t be available.”
Higbee warned festivalgoers to not attempt to breach the Area 51 site. He said there will be consequences, and he wants whatever events that take place to be safe.
“We don’t want them going down to government property; it will probably be blocked off,” he said. “Site No. 1 we don’t want civilian people in contact with the military at all. That will get ugly. Understand that is a military base, and regardless of whether that base is in Afghanistan, Syria or wherever, it’s still a base and they’re going to protect it, just as if it were in a foreign country.”
With the media attention the event is already getting, Lincoln County already has seen an increase in visitors stopping by the area, leading officials to believe a crowd of several thousand people is a real possibility for the September event.
“Our businesses went from seeing a few hundred people a day, to over a thousand people checking out a business.” he said. “We’re already seeing a surge of people, whether they’re checking it out to come or just checking it out, I don’t know. It’s just unheard of for our little town.”