It started out on social media as a joke, but has mushroomed to so much more that Lincoln County officials are preparing for the event to really happen.
Marty Roberts of Las Vegas, who admits he started the whole craze in late June, even apologized to Lincoln County Commission chair Varlin Higbee. Roberts has been questioned extensively by the FBI as to what his original intent was.
Higbee said he met with Roberts recently and the man is “a really humble pup right now. He is well aware of how out of hand this has become.”
Roberts might have thrown a rock into the lake as a joke, but now the ripples won’t stop.
At the Aug. 5 meeting, commissioners discussed what to do to handle the event if it does, in fact, occur in the numbers anticipated.
During the lengthy discussion, County Sheriff Kerry Lee said he would like to have at least two commissioners be liaisons that he and County Emergency Management director Eric Holt could communicate through. This would allow them to stay updated and make informed decisions as Sept. 20 approaches.
It was later recommended that Commissioner Kevin Phillips be included since he has had experience dealing with state and government agencies with the serious flooding problems in the past 10 years that occurred when he was mayor of Caliente.
“This is going to be an expense to the county,” Lee said, “potentially a very large expense.”
County law enforcement and emergency management are working together to help lessen the impact and finds ways to alleviate the expected large costs. “The problem is the unknown. How many will really come? We just don’t know,” Lee said, “but we are going to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Holt said, “We are going to identify our resources and set some trigger points to mark the place where we believe we have exhausted all our resources and need to ask for state assistance for things we don’t have.”
He said, with the event likely bigger than anyone can foresee, “We might need to consider making an emergency declaration in the county. We just don’t know at this point. But better to do it sooner. We can’t wait until Sept. 19.”
An emergency declaration, Holt explained, is made by the board of county commissioners and essentially says, “We have depleted all the resources we have and assistance is requested.”
Higbee suggested the declaration document be prepared and signed in advance so as to be ready when needed.
Commissioners didn’t take that action at this meeting but will likely take action at the Aug. 19 meeting.
Lee said the last emergency declaration in Lincoln County was the house bombing in Panaca in July 2016.
One of the other large problems the sheriff anticipates is the amount of manpower available. The small number of sheriff’s deputies and Nevada Highway Patrol Troopers in the county will not be sufficient.
Both Holt and Lee said one area of major concern is communication. Service in the Rachel area is limited and the cell towers that handle communications will be overwhelmed.
Lee said several plans for communications, law enforcement, mass care, sanitation, etc. will be in place before the event occurs.
He said talks have been held with those who put on the annual and heavily attended Burning Man event in Black Canyon Desert, northeast of Reno, and what they have learned on how to contain crowds that number in the thousands. Lee said the Burning Man organizers have been willing to provide expertise and helpful ideas.