A social media joke early this summer setting up a “Storm Area 51, they Can’t Stop Us All” group now has spiraled into emergency declarations in two Nevada counties and spurred an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®)/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) deployment of personnel and equipment. Some predictions say the “Storm Area 51” event will draw thousands — many possibly ill-equipped to be out in the desert environment — to the Nevada Test and Training Range, which contains the US Air Force facility known as Area 51. ARES teams plan to staff and support six incident-specific locations along the 50-mile event corridor known as Extraterrestrial Highway, starting on September 19 and continuing until September 24. ARES/RACES personnel in Nevada began gearing up for Storm Area 51 on Monday, and Storm Area 51 visitors already have begun showing up.
Secrecy surrounding Area 51 has long fascinated and inspired conspiracy theorists, who believe alien life forms recovered by the US military following UFO sightings in the 1950s are still being kept there. The events this week prompted stern warnings from the military to stay away from the site, and the FAA is reported to have closed the airspace above the area.
In June, 20-year-old Facebook user Matty Roberts called for crowds of people to rush Area 51 in the Nevada desert, to “see them aliens” that some believe are being held as prisoners there. Within days, more than 2 million indicated they were taking up Roberts’ rallying cry, and another 1.5 million expressed interest in doing so. At that point, Roberts declared that his initial post was just a joke. Multiple Facebook sites have opened since, promoting a huge music festival dubbed “Alienstock” in Rachel, a town of about 50 residents, and an Area 51 Basecamp in Hiko. Other UFO-inspired events are popping up along desolate Nevada Highway 375, Extraterrestrial Highway, effectively creating a venue more than 50 miles long, as no other roads exist into or out of Rachel. Reports say that hundreds of law enforcement officers and medical personnel will be posted, along with the Nevada National Guard.
Preliminary estimates of attendance have run as high as 100,000, and as low as 15,000. With virtually no local infrastructure and faced with the possibility of being overrun by visitors, officials in Lincoln and Nye counties declared states of emergency. When the events were first announced in late August, Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee, assisted by the Nevada Department of Emergency Management/Homeland Security (NDEM), found little time to prepare. Surrounding counties and agencies are pitching in with equipment and 350 personnel.
Lincoln County, where Rachel sits, has just 5,000 inhabitants, and virtually all of the land is owned by the federal government. The county has just 20 law enforcement officers.
Emergency medical and fire protection services are nonexistent in Rachel. Volunteers staff a single ambulance, a fire truck, and a rescue vehicle. The nearest small hospital is 85 miles away, and the closest major hospital or trauma care is 150 miles away in Las Vegas. Telecommunication and other services are sparse to nonexistent along the highway, and Rachel has just one business — a small bar/café/motel combination. Its proprietor told the Associated Press, “It’s happening. We already have people from all over the world.”
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