High Point Special Facility (SF)
Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center [MWEAC]
Western Virginia Office of Controlled Conflict Operations
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In the best-selling 1962 book Seven Days in May, the Joint Chiefs of Staff plot a military coup against a US president about to sign a nuclear arms control agreement. The conspiracy involves an emergency exercise at a place called Mount Thunder, a secret bunker where government leaders would go in the event of a nuclear attack. Authors Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II provide rather detailed driving instructions to get to the fictional Mount Thunder, which closely match those used to drive to the real Mount Weather. Although the bunker at Mt. Weather did not become widely known until more than a decade later, the thinly disguised portrayal of the facility in Seven Days in May demonstrates that the fact of the existence and the location of the facility was already known by the early 1960s.
The Mount Weather Special Facility is a Continuity of Government (COG) facility operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The 200,000 square foot facility also houses FEMA's National Emergency Coordinating Center. Located on a 434 acre mountain site on the borders of Loudon and Clarke counties, the above ground support facilities include about a dozen building providing communications links to the White House Situation Room.
The site was originally acquired by the National Weather Bureau, which named it the Mt. Weather Observatory, to launch weather balloons and kites for upper air research. Kites equipped with meteorgraphs were used as atmospheric probes in the late 1890s. From 1893 until 1933, the Weather Bureau maintained a system of stations from which kites were flown at regular hours when the winds permitted. The world's altitude record for a kite was claimed by the US Weather Bureau, with the ascent of a kite to 23,111 ft [7,044 meters] on 3 October 1907 at Mt. Weather. On 05 May 1910, the station on Mt. Weather launched a string of ten kites carrying meteorological instruments. The total area of this "train" of ten kites amounted to 683 square feet, and the uppermost kite rose to an altitude of 23,835 feet. In order to accomplish this feat, over 8-1/2 miles of thin wire were needed for the line.
During World War I there was an artillery range at Mount Weather, and Calvin Coolidge reportedly talked about constructing a summer White House at Mount Weather. During the Depression Mount Weather was reportedly a work farm of some description, though there is no indication that it served as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. In 1936 it passed to the Bureau of Mines, which bored a short experimental tunnel less than 300 feet beneath the mountain's crest to test new mining techniques.
Based on a favorable evaluation of the hardness and integrity of the mountain's rock, the Bureau began construction of the facility's tunnels in 1954, which were completed by the Army Corps of Engineers under the code name "Operation High Point."
In 1954, a few high-level officials, assuming several hours warning of a hypothetical attack, left Washington with a check list of possible actions. They assembled in a cave [probably the Mt. Weather construction site]. Water was dripping from the ceiling and oozing from the walls. This was the setting for the first Operation Alert exercise. The exercise lasted only a few hours, but a great deal was learned, believe it or not.
As of July 1958 there were some 90 relocation sites in the seat of Government arc from 30 to 300 miles of Washington, and over 300 relocation sites through-out the country for regional and field offices. The arc was connected with an interagency communication system, which was reasonably adequate and was in the process of further development. A few highly secure relocation sites for central direction and for the protection of central communications had either been constructed or were under construction as of mid-1958.
The Army Corps of Engineers completed the "Area B" underground complex in 1958-1959. Total constuction costs, adjusted for inflation, are estimated to have exceeded $1 billion. Tunnel roofs are shored up with some 21,000 iron bolts driven 8 to 10 feet into the overhead rock. The entrance is protected by a guillotine gate, and a 10 foot tall by 20 foot wide 34-ton blast door that is 5 feet thick and reportedly takes 10 to 15 minutes to open or close.
The underground bunker includes a hospital, crematorium, dining and recreation areas, sleeping quarters, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, an emergency power plant, and a radio and television studio which is part of the Emergency Braodcasting System. A series of side-tunnels accomodate a total of 20 office buildings, some of which are three stories tall. The East Tunnel includes a computer complex for directing emergency simulations and operations through the Contingency Impact Analysis System (CIAS) and the Resource Interruption Monitoring System (RIMS).
An on-site 90,000 gallon/day sewage treatment plant and two 250,000 gallon above-ground storage tanks are intended to support a population of 200 for up to 30 days. Although the facility is designed to accomodate several thousand people (with sleeping cots for 2,000), only the President, the Cabinet, and Supreme Court were provided private sleeping quarters. For Continuity of Government purposes, senior officials are divided into Alpha, Bravo and Charlie teams -- the first remains in Washington, the second relocates to Mount Weather, and the third disperses to other relocation sites.
The complex was prepared to assume certain governmental powers at the time of the 1961 Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The first full-scale activation of the facility came on 9 November 1965, at the time of the great Northeastern power blackout. The installation used the tools of its Civil Crisis Management program on a standby basis during the 1967 and 1968 urban riots and during a number of national antiwar demonstrations.
In its 1974 Annual Report, the Federal Preparedness Agency [FPA] stated that "Studies conducted at Mount Weather involve the control and management of domestic political unrest where there are material shortages (such as food riots) or in strike situations where the FPA determines that there are industrial disruptions and other domestic resource crises."
On 01 December 1974, a TWA Boeing 727 jet crashed into a fog-wrapped mountain, killing all 92 persons aboard. Journalists who covered the crash site noticed fenced US government facility nearby. Within days, The Washington Post reported that the facility was known as Mount Weather, though The Post quoted a spokesman for the Department of Defense as saying he was not allowed "to comment on what Mt. Weather was used for ... or how long it has been in its current use."
According to the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights hearings in 1975, the Congress had almost no knowledge and no oversight--budgetary or otherwise--on Mount Weather. Retired Air Force General Leslie W. Bray, in his testimony to the subcommittee, said "I am not at liberty to describe precisely what is the role and the mission and the capability that we have at Mount Weather, or at any other precise location."
General Bray did give the Senate Subcommittee a list of the categories of files maintained at Mount Weather: military installations, government facilities, communications, transportation, energy and power, agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, financial, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, housing shelter, and stockpiles.
In March, 1976, The Progressive magazine published an article entitled "The Mysterious Mountain." The author, Richard Pollock, based his investigative report on the Senate subcommittee hearings and upon "several off-the-record interviews with officials formerly associated with Mount Weather." His report, and a 1991 article by Ted Gup in Time Magazine entitled "Doomsday Hideaway", supply a few compelling details about Mount Weather.
The FEMA training center was established in 1979 at "Area A" on the surface of the facility. By the late 1990s between 800 and 1,200 people worked at the emergency assistance center, making it the agency's largest facility. Hundreds of other public and private officials attend training sessions at the above-ground center every year.
The Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center has transitioned from a single mission to one that supports the all-hazards mission of FEMA and, simultaneously, it became a self-supporting cost center that derives its income from the Working Capital Fund authorized by Congress. The Fiscal Year 1997 Appropriation Act authorized FEMA to establish a working capital fund for providing administrative services. A fund was established to support the centralized services provided by the Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center (MWEAC). The facility, over a two year period in 1997 and 1998, transitioned to a fully operational mode for the Working Capital Fund. It provides office, conference, training, and billeting accommodations at Mount Weather for use by FEMA organizations and other Federal agencies. While operations are being funded based on current appropriations, collections, and usage, FEMA is aggressively marketing the facility to attract new users. All organizations at Mount Weather, including FEMA components, were subject to the provisions of the Working Capital Fund beginning in FY 1998.
Since the 1993 restructuring, population explosion occurred at Mount Weather, moving from a daily work force of about 400 employees, to one of more than 900. Approximately 250 new Cadre of Oncall Response and Recovery Employee (CORE) positions were added that did not exist in 1993. Conference and Training Center (CTC) activity also expanded dramatically, from fewer than 6,000 students/attendees in 1993, to more than 18,000 in FY 1996. More than 100,000 persons were guests at Mount Weather during 1996. The Conference and Training Center at Mount Weather handles some 10,000 students per year for one-week courses, a number comparable to the approximately 10,000 students trained each year in residence at the National Emergency Training Center in Emittsburg, Maryland.
Mount Weather is currently home to six major disaster operations facilities including the:
- National Processing Service Center-Virginia
- Satellite Teleregistration Center
- Disaster Finance Office
- Disaster Information Systems Clearinghouse
- Disaster Personnel Operations Division
- Agency Logistics Center
Today, even in small emergencies like flooding, a lot of the coordination is going through Mount Weather. Ever since the Cold War ended, they have been ordering service for the whole country on the smaller disasters. A snow storm on January 13, 1997 closed the NTC in Denton, TX. The Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center took 100 percent of the calls that day. The West Side Teleregistration Service Representative personnel of Buildings 704 and 712 took a total of 2,254 calls with an average wait time of only 12 seconds.
Mt. Weather is currently home to eight major FEMA functional groups:
The Virginia National Processing Center (VNPSC) is one of three FEMA Processing Service Centers nationwide. Its mission is to assist individuals impacted by disasters to begin the recovery process. Each Center's phone banks receive countless first calls for assistance from victims in the aftermath of disasters. Each claimant is provided a fast, efficient, and caring response.
The Disaster Finance Center (DFC) provides centralized financial management services for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund. These services include disaster cost projections, payment of disaster expenses, and production of financial statements and related reports. The DFC is a division of the Office of Financial Management and has a full-time staff of about 80 people and a surge staff that varies in size, depending on disaster activity.
The Disaster Information Systems Clearinghouse (DISC) operates a storage and recycling center that provides centralized control and deployment of all computer and communications equipment necessary to support disaster declarations.
The Disaster Personnel Operations Division (DPOD) is a part of the Office of Human Resources Management and is responsible for personnel management in support of disaster response. The division recruits, selects, and supports employees that fill temporary positions at FEMA's fixed facilities and other offices throughout the U.S. In addition, the division maintains National Cadres of Disaster Assistance Employees and maintains FEMA's Automated Disaster Deployment (ADD) system.
The Agency Logistics Center (ALC) provides centralized inventory management for three territorial logistics centers that deploy material and supplies necessary for FEMA's response to disaster declarations.
The Conference and Training Center (CTC) provides training facilities to support FEMA training activities as well as other federal agency training and conferencing. The CTC offers nearly 35,000 square feet dedicated to classroom training and currently averages 32,000 student days of training per year.
The Information Technology Services Division (ITS) provides computer and communications support for FEMA's all-hazards emergency response mission. The Information Technology Service Center (ITSC), which is located at Mt. Weather, is responsible for providing 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week help desk for users of FEMA's information systems during declared disasters. At other times, the ITSC operates 16 hours a day. The ITSC is responsible for taking reports on and processing suspected or actual network security problems, and notifying the ESM and appropriate system/network administrator immediately following the reported incident.
The Mt. Weather Management Division works operates and maintains the Mt. Weather EAC by providing basic services such as: electrical power, water, transportation, health care, fire service, security, and facility maintenance. The Division's activities enable all resident and tenant organizations to concentrate on accomplishing their primary missions.
Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, it was reported that "House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other top leaders of Congress were taken to the safety of a secure government facility 75 miles west of Washington." ["Member of Congress condemn attacks," By James Jefferson, The Associated Press, 11 Sept 2002]. It was also reported that "Top congressional leaders were sent to a secure government facility 75 miles west of Washington. They returned Tuesday evening." ["Secret Service takes leaders to secure locations as government responds to attacks," By Laura Meckler, The Associated Press, 11 Sept 2002]. Route 601 [also called Blue Ridge Mountain Road] leads to Mt. Weather. One reporter traveling this road the afternoon of September 11th found "a traffic jam of limos carrying Washington and government license plates and even a motorcade led by eight Harley Davidson U.S. Park Police." ["Things That Go Bump In The Night At Cheney's Cave," by Paul Bedard White House Weekly December 4, 2001].
As of late 2001, the facility's enclave was to be soon expanded by 150 acres.
Mt. Weather USGS Aerial Images April 1965
Mt. Weather overview image 114k
Mt. Weather overview image 451k
Mt. Weather West - 1 meter resolution
Mt. Weather East - 1 meter resolution
- Mount Weather by Albert LaFrance
- Mount Weather @ FEMA
- Pollack, Richard, "The Mysterious Mountain," The Progressive, March 1976, pages 12-16.
- Emerson, Steven, "America's Doomsday Project," US News and World Report, 7 August 1989, pages 26-31.
- Walters, Robert, "Going Underground," Inquiry, 2 February 1991, pages 12-16.
- Royce, Knut, "COG in US Nuclear Wheel," Baltimore News American, 2 May 1983, page 1.
- Gup, Ted, "Doomsday Hideaway," Time, 9 December 1991, pages 26-29.
- Gup, Ted, "The Doomsday Blueprints," Time, 10 August 1992, pages 32-39.
- "Still Digging Cold War Bunkers," by Bradley Cook The St. Petersburg Times Friday, May 15, 1998
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