What began as a joke has morphed into something so big that it has residents and leaders of Lincoln County, Nevada, taking advanced measures to make sure their towns aren’t overrun.
The county, which has a population of 5,000, is home to the highly classified U.S. Air Force Base known popularly as “Area 51.”
A Facebook event started earlier this year called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us” gained viral traction over the summer, with more than two million registering as “going” and another 1.5 million registered as “interested.”
While most don’t expect that many people to show up to — let alone actually storm — the military installation, what has happened is that the popularity of the event sparked several real pop-up events in the area around the same timeframe, according to The Hill.
One of the events is a three-day music festival called “Alienstock,” which is set to go from September 20 to September 22. The festival will be held in the extraordinarily tiny community of Rachel, which is home to about 50 residents. Locals are expecting roughly 10,000 people to attend — a number that could quickly overwhelm available resources.
A touristy souvenir shop called the Alien Research Center is hosting an exposition during the same time period in Hiko, Nevada.
Both events have been officially approved and permitted, but county leadership on Monday pre-signed a declaration of emergency to help prepare the county for a large influx of tourists, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The declaration would give the county immediate options to contact the state of Nevada for emergency resources, including law enforcement, should the county of 5,000 residents be overrun.
“Oh, we’re very much taking this seriously,” Lincoln County Commission Chairman Varlin Higbee said.
“With the possibility of 35,000-40,000 people showing up, yeah, this is serious.”
Higbee expressed concerns about how the county would pay for the resources necessary to maintain order if such a crowd actually does show up.
“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,” he said.
The chairman also warned of the danger that visitors would be faced with should they have the urge to follow through on the “invasion” of the Area 51 base.
“We don’t want them going down to government property; it will probably be blocked off,” Higbee said. “We don’t want civilian people in contact with the military at all. That will get ugly.”
A U.S. Air Force spokesperson issued a vague, but stern warning when asked if they were aware of the event and told The Washington Post that the Air Force “always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”