Area 51 county officials draft emergency plan for big crowds

Lawmakers in Nevada's sparsely populated Lincoln County have drafted an emergency declaration and are planning with neighboring counties and the state in case crowds arrive for an event next month dubbed "Storm Area 51."

LAS VEGAS -- Officials in Nevada's sparsely populated Lincoln County have drafted an emergency declaration and are planning with neighboring counties and the state in case crowds arrive for an event next month dubbed "Storm Area 51."

"Oh, we're taking this seriously," County Commission Chairman Varlin Higbee told the Las Vegas Review-Journal . "With the possibility of 35,000 to 40,000 people showing up, yeah, this is serious."

The elected board governing a county with about 5,200 residents conditionally approved two events on Monday for tiny desert towns near the once top-secret U.S. Air Force test area known in popular lore as a site for government studies of outer space aliens.

The Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel, population about 50, is scheduling a three-day music festival Sept. 20-22 dubbed Alienstock. Hotel co-owner Connie West has said she's expecting 10,000 people.

The Alien Research Center souvenir shop in Hiko, a town of about 120 residents a 45-minute drive from Rachel, plans a Sept. 20-21 expo.

Higbee said county officials fear a surge of visitors will overwhelm campsites, fuel stops and public medical, internet and cellphone services. A county spokesman recently tallied a total of 184 hotel rooms in the sprawling county covering an area nearly twice the size of Connecticut.

"The cellphone system is going to go down," the commission chairman said. "You get more than a couple of hundred people there, and it's going to crash. Cell service won't be available."

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said Tuesday he was meeting with state emergency planning officials.

County officials have also met with officials from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Clark County, the sheriffs of White Pine and Nye counties, and the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Eric Holt, Lincoln County emergency manager, said he asked commissioners to "pre-sign" the emergency declaration in case immediate state help is needed. Higbee has authority to invoke it.

"It's more preparatory," Holt told the Review-Journal, "(so) we don't have to wait for the next commission meeting to happen."

The festivals evolved from an internet post inviting people to run into the remote test area in the Nevada desert that has long been the focus of UFO conspiracy theories.

Higbee said visitors should not attempt to enter Area 51. He noted it is a U.S. military base.

"We don't want them going down to government property; it will probably be blocked off," he said. "We don't want civilian people in contact with the military at all. That will get ugly."

The conditional permits still require festival and event organizers to submit final plans to the Lincoln County Commission by Sept. 3.

"They have to have their security, medical, parking plans and few other things (ready)," Higbee said.

———

Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com