LAS VEGAS -- A study earlier this year by a federal panel found that a flu pandemic could wipe out tens of millions of Americans within days. The experts worry about engineered viruses falling into the wrong hands.
One way to insure that civilization could survive a pandemic or other global catastrophe is to build a pandemic center, a safe haven for selected people with certain skills so that society could rebuild.
Great minds have been puzzled for years about what to do with the Nevada National Security Site, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site. One idea currently making the rounds is to build an accelerator for use in producing medical isotopes. But the idea that might create the most jobs and cast the biggest shadow is to build a pandemic center, the equivalent of Noah's Ark, under the sands of the test site.
"There was a time in the early 60's when Mercury, Nevada was the third largest city in the state of Nevada," said Troy Wade, Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation.
Nuclear weapons expert Troy Wade remembers the heyday of the test site, when thousands of scientists, technicians, miners, and construction workers bustled throughout the sprawling one-of-a-kind facility, building things then blowing them to bits, all in the name of national security. For a time, one in every nine jobs in Las Vegas was tied to the site.
Treaties ended atomic testing, and the site has been searching for a new role ever since. The place has unmatched advantages: it's huge, it's secure, and it's a long way from anything else.
"We measure encroachment by distance to the nearest MacDonald's," Wade said. The district happens to be 37 miles.
That makes the site the perfect place to test dangerous stuff. So long as nuclear weapons exist, the site will have a role, to make sure our bombs still work, and to make sure we know how to detect the bombs of others. Wade thinks the development of equipment used to verify disarmament treaties will keep the site active for many years. It has also become a hotbed of anti-terrorism training, teaching agents how to detect components of a dirty bomb, for instance or how to track down a bio weapons lab.
A proposal to create the country's first commercial spaceport died because the technology wasn't up to the job at the time, and the state of New Mexico took the idea and ran with it.
The test site is honeycombed with tunnels and underground facilities, places that might be perfect for ultra-secure data storage, already being explored by the people at Switch, the data center giant.
Of all the ideas proposed for the site, though, this might be the biggest game changer of them all is a national pandemic center.
"It is a big reach, but the guy behind it has made big reaches before," Wade said.
The idea was pitched by businessman Robert Bigelow at a brainstorming session last year. Bigelow is known for creating his own space program from scratch and already has two of his satellites in orbit. He declined to speak about it on camera but his staff has produced a book on the plan. They estimate the idea could produce nearly 22,000 permanent jobs, not counting the huge construction force needed to build the center.
So, what is it? An underground Noah's Ark built inside a mountain at the test site. A permanent home for 5000 people; a place where society would survive if all hell broke loose elsewhere.
"By having research labs underground that could survive a pandemic attack and be recovered after that attack is over. That would be enormous if we were to do something like that. It would take years to construct it and a lot of construction jobs, and then a huge economic impact if you had researchers in there working all the time," Wade said.
But unlike Raven Rock or Cheyenne Mountain which were built to protect government and military leaders in case of Armageddon, the pandemic center would include a mix of regular folks, people whose skills would be vital in rebuilding society, such as welders, electricians, and teachers.
Bigelow's team has drawn specific ideas what the complex would be like. It would have living quarters, working quarters, and water and food supplies that could last a long time.
There's a plan for how people would be selected and how it would be used full-time so there are always 5000 people inside. The impetus for the center is the strong possibility that a bio attack is inevitable. Studies show how quickly a virus could spread, like a nightmare from a Hollywood movie, but the threat is real. The pandemic center could not only save Nevada's economy, but save humanity itself if the worst ever happened.
The study written for the Bigelow organization has already identified a population of about 13 million people from whom the final cut would be made. Doctors and nurses would be included and people with other skills. The idea was pitched some months ago to local business leaders and test site overseers but didn't gain much traction.
For more information about the proposal to build a National Pandemic Center, contact
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