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Preparing for ‘Storm Area 51’ events time consuming for sheriff

Updated September 10, 2019 - 9:06 pm

Prepping a sparsely populated rural area for an influx of possibly thousands tied to the “Storm Area 51” events is no small task.

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said a crew of about a dozen department employees this week will begin moving and setting up three temporary division command posts and a main incident command post in different areas of the county to police a pair of planned events.

The county had a mandatory meeting Monday morning of all agencies, including the sheriff’s department, jail, dispatch, and the county’s legal team, to get their plan of action organized, Lee said.

“We wanted to get all of our ducks in a row,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of logistics, paperwork, connectivity as far as computers and that type of stuff. Basically everything that nobody thinks about that happens in the background.”

Over the next week-and-a-half, all equipment, law enforcement and emergency personnel needed to patrol the events will be moved to the sites. Travel trailers and ATVs will also be moved.

“It’s going to be a very, very, very busy next 10 days,” Lee said.

All the work is in preparation of a pair of planned “Storm Area 51” events — Alienstock taking place Sept. 20-22 in Rachel and Area 51 Basecamp occurring Sept. 21-22 in Hiko — that are expected to draw up to 15,000 people to the region.

With food and gasoline virtually nonexistent in the two towns, the county is bringing in additional resources to ensure their crews are ready to handle the projected throngs of festivalgoers.

“We contacted Thomas Petroleum and they’re bringing in 4,000 gallons of fuel for us, and it’s portable so we can disperse it throughout different areas,” Lee said. “The Nevada Division of Forestry is bringing in what they call a Sonoma kitchen … which will be utilized to feed the first responders.”

Temporary measures

Because the jail in Lincoln County holds up to 130 inmates and has room to house just 30 more people, the sheriff’s department is looking at an alternative method to handle those charged with minor crimes at the events, Lee said.

“We’re probably going to have a book-and-release facility in Hiko, where we won’t do so much holding but more book and release,” he said.

“The Department of Public Safety has been a big player in this. Their investigative branch, they’re assisting us immensely,” Lee said. “The Nevada Highway Patrol is going to be handling the highway stuff. We’ve had other sheriff’s departments and police offices come to us to assist. We feel like we have a pretty good handle on this.”

To ensure having adequate communications bandwidth, Verizon is lending a helping hand and enhancing the first responders’ connectivity for the weekend of events.

The communications giant is bringing in temporary resources to aid the cell service and connectivity in the area. Lincoln County Telephone System is helping connect internet in locations for the first responders.

Key officials, including Lee, will have satellite phones to provide added redundancy.

The Nevada National Guard is also expected to bulk up the communications infrastructure for the county, Lee said.

Lincoln County officials have worked with several outside agencies throughout the state who have or will lend their services tied to the festivals.

Emergency personnel will be on site between a private provider and county emergency medical services. Medical tents are planned for Rachel to treat minor injuries, but precautions are in place if serious or critical injuries should occur.

“They (county) are working on air resources as well,” Lee said. “They’ve (the county) been working with Mercy Air, and hopefully we’ll have a helicopter dedicated to the site and will contact other air services that might be needed as the event goes on.”

Costly operation

The events were spawned by a hoax Facebook post aimed at storming Area 51 at the Nevada Test and Training Range with millions of people pledging their support.

The matter is not fun and games for the town, as up to $30,000 in overtime could be racked up by the sheriff’s department tied to the two events, Lee estimated.

The county is footing the bill for all costs associated with the festival setup, but the pre-signed declaration of emergency put in place by the county could net state funds to supplement the spending, Lee said.

“Even though the emergency declaration has been approved by the county, it doesn’t mean it’s been approved by the state,” he said. “The state has to go through our paperwork and make sure it’s all up to par and then can decide if they approve or deny anything that comes from the state.

“Right now the county is soaking up the entire bill.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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