DHS/FEMA Police ID patches worn at Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center

What Is Mount Weather?

Mount Weather is a REAL place. Eighty-five acres located fifty-four miles west of Washington and 1,725 feet above sea level, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. In the event of all-out war, an "elite" group of civilian and military leaders are to be taken to Mount Weather's cavernous underground shelter and become the nucleus of a postwar American society. The government has a secret list of those persons it plans to save. Mount Weather personnel also maintain a database of information on U.S. citizens, but relatively little is publicly known about this facility.

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 Special Facility is an 'unacknowledged' Continuity of Government (CoG) operation run 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, with 240 employees, include about a dozen building providing communications links to the White House Situation Room.

The site was originally acquired by the National Weather Bureau to launch weather balloons and kites. 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 mountains 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." Total construction 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.

Completed in 1958, 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 Broadcasting System. A series of side-tunnels accommodate 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 accommodate several thousand people (with sleeping cots for 2,000), only the President, the Cabinet, and Supreme Court are provided private sleeping quarters. For Continuity of Government purposes, senior officials are divided into Alpha, Bravo and Charlie teams -- one remains in Washington, another relocates to Mount Weather, and the third disperses to other relocation sites. The only full-scale activation of the facility came on 9 November 1965, at the time of the great Northeastern power blackout.

Mount Weather is virtually an underground city, according to former personnel interviewed by Pollock. Buried deep inside the earth, Mount Weather was equipped with such amenities as: private apartments and dormitories, streets and sidewalks, cafeterias and hospitals, water purification system, power plant, general office buildings, a small lake fed by fresh water from underground springs, its own mass transit system, and a TV communication system.

Mount Weather is the self-sustaining underground command center for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who also manages the facility. It is the operational hub of approximately 100 other Federal Relocation Centers, most of which are concentrated in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Together this network of underground facilities constitutes the backbone of America's "Continuity of Government" (CoG) program. In the event of nuclear war, declaration of martial law, or any other national emergency, the President, his cabinet, and the rest of the Executive Branch would be relocated to Mount Weather. When it has to talk about the place, which is rare, FEMA officials refer to it as the "special facility". Its more common name comes from a weather station that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had maintained on the mountain at one time.

The authors of "SEVEN DAYS IN MAY", Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, were Washington journalists who learned a lot about the then-quite-secret post. Few readers of Knebel and Bailey's fiction could have imagined how close to the truth it was. The novel gives detailed highway directions from Washington:

"...the Chrysler wheeled onto Route 50, heading away from Washington.... In the jungle of neon lights and access roads at Seven Corners, Corwin saw Scott bear right onto Route 7, the main road to Leesburg. The two cars moved slowly through Falls Church before the traffic began to thin out and speed up...."

"At the fork west of Leesburg, Scott bore right on Route 9, heading toward Charles Town.... They began to climb toward the Blue Ridge, the eastern rim of the Shenandoah Valley...."

"West of Hillboro, where the road crossed the Blue Ridge before dropping into the valley....Scott turned left. Corwin followed him onto a black macadam road that ran straight along the spine of the ridge."

"...Because of his White House job, Corwin knew something about this road that few other Americans did. Virginia 120 appeared to be nothing more than a better-than-average Blue Ridge byway, but it ran past Mount Thunder, where an underground installation provided one of the several bases from which the President could run the nation in the event of a nuclear attack on Washington."

Knebel and Bailey disguised the directions slightly. You continue on Route 7 west of Leesburg, turning left on Route 601 just west of Bluemont. It's Virginia Route 601 that runs right up to the gates of Mount Weather. Residents have long known there is something funny about that road, as it is always the first road cleared after a snowstorm.

At one point, the government asked the local paper not to print any articles about the facility. But it is all but impossible to keep such a place secret. The Appalachian Trail runs right by Mount Weather, and hikers can get close enough to see signs and flashing lights. One sign reads: "All persons and vehicles entering hereon are liable to search. Photographing, making notes, drawings, maps or graphic representations of this area or its activities are prohibited." In the late 1960s an unidentified "hippie" is supposed to have stumbled upon the facility and sketched it from a tree. His drawing turned up in the QUICKSILVER TIMES, an underground newspaper in Washington. Residents also tell of the time when a hunt club chased a fox onto the site and triggered an alarm. The club had to go to the main gate to get the dogs back.

After the TWA crash, a spokesman "politely declined to comment on what Mount Weather was used for, how many people work there, or how long it has been in its current use," the WASHINGTON POST reported. The POST published a picture of the facility, citing far-fetched speculation that Mount Weather's radio antennas may have interfered with the jet's radar and caused the disaster. You don't get into Mount Weather without an invitation. The entrance is said to be like the door to a bank vault, only thicker, set into a mountain made out of the toughest granite in the East. It is guarded around the clock.

Mount Weather got more unsolicited publicity in 1975. Senator John Tunney (D-Calif.) charged that Mount Weather held dossiers on 100,000 or more Americans. A sophisticated computer system gives the installation access to detailed information on the lives of virtually every American citizen, Tunney claimed. Mount Weather personnel stonewalled question after question in two Senate hearings.

"I don't understand what they're trying to hide out there," Douglas Lea, staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, said. "Mount Weather is just closed up to us." Tunney complained that Mount Weather was "out of control." Mount Weather has been owned by the government since 1903, when the site was purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Calvin Coolidge talked about building a summer White House there. In World War I it was an artillery range, and during the Depression it was a work farm for hobos. Mount Weather as an alternate capital seems to have been the idea of Millard F. Caldwell, former governor of Florida.

In March, 1976, The Progressive Magazine published an astonishing article entitled "The Mysterious Mountain." The author, Richard Pollock, based his investigative report on Senate subcommittee hearings and upon "several off-the-record interviews with officials formerly associated with Mount Weather." His report, and a 1991 article in Time Magazine entitled "Doomsday Hideaway", supply a few compelling hints about what is going on underground.

Ted Gup, writing for Time, describes the base as follows: "Mount Weather is a virtually self-contained facility. Above ground, scattered across manicured lawns, are about a dozen buildings bristling with antennas and microwave relay systems. An on-site sewage-treatment plant, with a 90,000 gal.-a-day capacity, and two tanks holding 250,000 gal. of water could last some 200 people more than a month; underground ponds hold additional water supplies. Not far from the installation's entry gate are a control tower and a helicopter pad. The mountain's real secrets are not visible at ground level."

Mount Weather's Various Names

Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center (MWEOC)
The current official name, which first appeared publicly some time after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center (MWEAC)
The previous official name for the facility. Selected to emphasize FEMA's disaster assistance role over the agency's true purpose, which consists of classified 'black' missions.

High Point Special Facility (SF)
An early code name for the facility.

Western Virginia Area Office
Name seen in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records.

U.S. Army Interagency Communications Agency, Winchester, VA (USAICA)
USAICA operated classified emergency relocation sites in the earlier years of the Cold War.

Western Virginia Office of Controlled Conflict Operations (WVOCCO)
This name appears in various Web references, but its origins and authenticity are unknown.

Crystal or Crystal Palace
Code name for the Presidential Emergency Facility which is/was located within the Mount Weather complex.

Small town about 8 miles northwest of Mount Weather. FEMA employees sometimes use this name and Mount Weather has a post office box in Berryville. Otherwise, the town has no known connection to the facility.

Round Hill
Small town about 8 miles northeast of Mount Weather with no known connection to the facility.

Small town about 5 miles northeast of Mount Weather. The facility's street address is in Bluemont. Otherwise, the town has no known connection to Mount Weather.

Washington No. 4
The AT&T communications station at Mount Weather. This name was probably intended to be deceptive. The other AT&T "Washington" locations are in Washington, DC. AT&T facilities are typically named for a nearby place or for the mountain on which they're located.

Berryville No. 2
Another misleading name for AT&T's presence at Mount Weather.

The Hill
Informal name used by AT&T employees when referring to Mount Weather.

Branch 1 or Branch No. 1
Name found in an AT&T tariff. Circumstantial evidence suggests it might be Mount Weather.

Mount Thunder
Fictitious name used by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey in their 1962 political thriller "Seven Days in May".

Where is Mount Weather?

Aerial View Of Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center (MWEOC) Facility

Mount Weather is about 48 airline miles west of Washington, DC and approximately 54 miles by road. The facility's address is 19844 Blue Ridge Mountain Road (VA Route 601). The road runs northeast-southwest along the mountain, roughly on the line between western Loudoun County and eastern Clarke County. Route 601 terminates at two major highways: Route 7 to the north and Route 50/17 to the south. Directional signs indicating "Mount Weather EAC" are located at both intersections (as of August 2011, these signs may have been removed). The FEMA facility is located approximately halfway down along the road.

The mountain's "real secrets" are protected by warning signs, 10 foot-high chain link fences, razor wire, and armed guards. Curious motorists and hikers on the Appalachian trail are relieved of their sketching pads and cameras and sent on their way. Security is tight. The government has owned the site since 1903. It has seen service as an artillery range, a hobo farm during the Great Depression, and a National Weather Bureau Facility. In 1936, the U.S. Bureau of Mines took control and started digging.

Mount Weather is a secure installation and DOES NOT admit 'unauthorized' visitors. There are few places where one can park along Route 601 and walking along the road is unsafe due to the lack of a shoulder in most places.

Mount Weather Is Home To Six Major Disaster Operations Facilities:

National Processing Service Center
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.

Command Posts Established For Use In A Nuclear Emergency:

1. National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC): A militarized Boeing E-4B (converted from a commercial 747-200) based at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, and ready for take-off on 15 minutes' notice, is available to the president and vice president for commanding nuclear forces from the air during a crisis.(1) At least one aircraft (there are four in all) is always on alert with a full battle staff. When the President travels around the country or overseas in Air Force One (the designation for one of several aircraft at the president's disposal in peacetime), a NAOC often flies to a nearby location.(2) While colloquially known as the "doomsday plane," the official code name for NAOC is "Night Watch." Classified assessments during the cold war questioned whether the president or his designated successor could actually reach the aircraft in the event of a nuclear attack, let alone get off the ground in time. Once airborne, the specially shielded and configured plane would allow the president to coordinate a nuclear war with senior military commanders (each of whom has his own airborne command post) and, if necessary, transmit EAMs to launch a nuclear attack.(3)

Although plans initiated under President Jimmy Carter and fortified during the Reagan administration envisioned a protracted nuclear war lasting days or weeks, NAOC, like all the other airborne command posts, can only remain aloft for seventy-two hours at most (assuming in-flight refueling from KC-135 tankers also kept on alert), at which point its engine oil will begin to break down and require replacement. A growing concern following the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens (whose ash drifted across much of the northern United States and forced the diversion of downwind commercial airline traffic) was that the large amounts of fallout generated by a Soviet attack on U.S. cities and military bases might clog the intakes of jet engines, further jeopardizing the survival of airborne command posts.(4)

Alternative Underground Command Posts Alternative underground command posts were built in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia (two) and West Virginia.

2. Site R/Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC): Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania. Blasted out of Raven Rock Mountain, about 6 miles (9.67 kilometers) north of Camp David on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, this underground bunker was built in around-the-clock shifts between 1950 and 1953 as a backup Pentagon and communications center, should Washington, DC be destroyed. Site R's "footprint" is nearly 260,000 square feet (24,180 square meters); its total usable floor space is perhaps three times larger. Operated by nearby Fort Detrick, Site R's facilities are designed to handle 3,000 people and include sophisticated computer and communications equipment, a reservoir, medical and dental facilities, dining hall, barber shop, and chapel. Although twenty-four-hour staffing of the site ended in February 1992, by October 1997, more than 500 military and civilian personnel still worked at the facility.(5) Construction costs are unknown, but likely match or exceed the $1 billion spent on Mount Weather. According to the FYDP, from fiscal 1962 to 1992 (the last year funds were recorded as being expended), maintaining and operating the ANMCC cost more than $1 billion.

3. NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex (NCMC): Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Planned in the mid to late 1950s and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between June 1961 and May 1964, the NCMC dug out of Cheyenne Mountain replaced NORAD's previous vulnerable above ground facilities in a converted hospital at Ent Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The NCMC was designed to protect the headquarters of the North American early warning and control network (jointly operated by the U.S. and Canada) from nuclear attack. Its primary mission was to detect and assess a Soviet nuclear attack, notify senior military commanders, and coordinate the launching of retaliatory strikes before the first Soviet warheads detonated.

Although shielded by 1,750 feet (533 meters) of granite, the NCMC became vulnerable to direct attack by Soviet missiles deployed in the late 1960s. Inside 4 1/2 acres (196,020 square feet; 18,212 square meters) of the mountain, some 115,000 bolts shore up the wall (two noncommissioned officers continually check and tighten these bolts to keep the walls from weakening and collapsing). Fifteen buildings rest atop more than 1,300 large metal springs (3.95 to 4 feet [1.2 meters] long, 3 inches [7.6 centimeters] thick, and 20 inches [50.8 centimeters] in diameter), designed to cushion the shock of nearby detonations.

The entire installation is sealed off by 30-ton blast doors, 3 feet (0.9 meters) thick, that can be hydraulically closed in less than a minute. The cost of the project by the end of 1965 totaled some $695 million.(6) At present, NORAD monitors data from early warning satellites and radars and tracks more than 8,000 objects in near-Earth orbit. Most of these objects (90 percent) are "space junk" consisting of paint chips, metal hardware, and other debris associated with past space missions. Using sophisticated radars and computers, NORAD monitors everything and reports potential hazards in order to avoid damage to orbiting satellites or the Space Shuttle.

Costs for the NCMC from 1962 through 1995 are listed in the FYDP under four program elements: 102310F "NCMC Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment" ($1.7 billion), 102311F NCMC "Space Defense Systems" ($3.0 billion), 305906F "NCMC Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment" ($875 million), and 305907F "NCMC Space Defense Systems" ($49 million), for a total of $5.6 billion over thirty-three years.

4. High Point Special Facility (SF)/Mount Weather - Berryville, Virginia: The Mount Weather site is an unacknowledged Continuity of Government (CoG) facility operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The 200,000-square-foot (18,600-square-meter) facility, with an estimated floor space of three times that amount, also houses FEMA's National Emergency Coordinating Center, which operates twenty four hours a day, tracking worldwide disasters, both natural and man-made. Located on a 434-acre mountain site 48 miles (77 kilometers) (by air) from Washington, DC, the surface complex includes about a dozen buildings staffed by more than 240 employees.

The Bureau of Mines began constructing the facility's tunnels in 1954, which were completed by the Army Corps of Engineers under the code name "Operation High Point." Total construction costs, adjusted for inflation, are estimated to have exceeded $1 billion. Tunnel roofs are shored up with some 21,000 iron bolts driven eight to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) into the overhead rock. The entrance is protected by a guillotine gate and a 34-ton blast door that is 10 feet (3 meters) tall, 20 feet (6 meters) wide, and 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick and reportedly takes 10 to 15 minutes to open or close.

Completed in 1958, 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 that is part of the Emergency Broadcasting System. From 1961 to 1970, the site was connected to the Bomb Alarm System, a network of sensors mounted on telephone poles adjacent to ninety-nine cities and military bases which would detect a nuclear detonation by its intense thermal flash and signal this event to Mount Weather and other military command posts, permitting both damage assessment and helping to confirm whether or not an attack had occurred. A large electronic map in a special room would indicate via tiny red light bulbs where explosions had occurred (this system was later replaced by more sophisticated space-based sensors).(7) A series of side tunnels accommodates a total of twenty office buildings, some of which are three stories tall. With an on-site sewage treatment plant that can process 90,000 gallons (340,650 liters) a day and two 250,000-gallon (946,250-liter) above ground storage tanks, the facility can support a population of 200 for up to 30 days. Although it is designed to accommodate several thousand people (with sleeping cots for 2,000), only the President, the Cabinet, and Supreme Court are provided private sleeping quarters.

For CoG (Continuity of Government) purposes, senior officials are divided into Alpha, Bravo and Charlie teams: one would remain in Washington, another relocate to Mount Weather, and the third disperse to other relocation sites. Officials at Mount Weather track the location of everyone designated to succeed the president twenty four hours a day. Designated evacuees carry special identification cards, and regular briefings and drills are conducted. Officials are not allowed to bring their families. The only full-scale activation of the facility came on November 9, 1965, during the great Northeastern power blackout.(8) The 1974 crash of a TWA plane into the mountain, killing ninety-two people, brought the site to widespread public attention. Until May 1991, the site's underground weather station issued daily reports on potential fallout patterns.

From the mid-1950s until 1970, the 2857th Test Squadron, a special group of helicopter pilots and rescue workers based at Olmstead Air Force Base in Pennsylvania, and known as the Outpost Mission, was trained to fly to the White House in the event of nuclear attack, retrieve the president and first family, and relocate them to Mount Weather, or several other sites, including (from 1961 to 1970) the National Emergency Command Post Afloat. If the team should have difficulty reaching the White House before an attack, it carried specialized equipment to break into the bunker underneath the executive mansion; a backup unit with heavier equipment, including cranes, was also available if the damage proved more severe.(9)

5. Mount Pony: Culpeper, Virginia. For nearly three decades, the Federal Reserve Board operated a 139,800-square-foot (13,001 square-meter) radiation hardened facility inside Mount Pony, just east of Culpeper, Virginia. Dedicated on December 10, 1969, the 400-foot-long (122-meter) bunker is built of steel-reinforced concrete 1 foot (0.3 meters) thick. Lead-lined shutters can be dropped to shield the windows of the semi-recessed facility, which is covered by 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) of dirt and surrounded by barbed-wire fences and a guard post. The seven computers at the facility, operated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, were the central node for the transfer of all American electronic funds.

Until July 1992, the bunker, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Washington, D.C., also served as a facility for the continuity of government. With a peacetime staff of 100, the site was designed to support an emergency staff of 540 for thirty days, but only 200 beds were provided in the mens and womens dormitories, which would be shared on a "hot-bunk" basis by the staff, working around the clock. A preplanned menu of freeze-dried foods for the first thirty days of occupation was stored on site; private wells would provide uncontaminated water following an attack. Other noteworthy features of the facility were a cold storage area for maintaining bodies that could not be promptly buried (owing to high radiation levels), an incinerator, indoor pistol range, and a helicopter landing pad.

Until 1988, Mount Pony stored several billion dollars worth of currency, including a large number of $2 bills in its 23,500-square-foot (2,186-square0-meter) vault, shrink-wrapped and stacked on pallets 9 feet (2.7 meters) high. This money was to be used "to replenish currency supplies east of the Mississippi."(10) In November 1997 Congress authorized the transfer of the facility from the Federal Reserve to the Library of Congress, which, using funds from a private foundation, will purchase and upgrade the site to house its extensive motion picture, television, and recorded sound collections.(11)

6. The Greenbrier (Casper) White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: From 1962 until its decommissioning on July 31, 1995, this CoG facility, code-named Casper (later Greek Island) was to house the U.S. Congress. It is located on the grounds of the prestigious Greenbrier resort.(12) The 112,000-square-foot (10,416-meter) bunker is 64 feet (19.5 meters) beneath the West Virginia wing of the hotel and includes a complete medical clinic, a dining room (with wooden frames for false windows with country scenes painted on them), a television studio (to broadcast to the surviving citizenry), communications and cryptographic equipment, decontamination showers, and a "pathological waste incinerator" (otherwise known as a crematorium). Until 1992, the small staff maintaining the site under the guise of a 'television repair' company quietly tracked all prescription medications for each member of Congress and kept fresh supplies on hand in the event the facility was called into action.(13)

Construction of the site, which required 50,000 tons of concrete, began in 1959 and took two and a half years to complete. The steel-reinforced concrete walls of the bunker, which is 20 feet (6.1 meters) below ground, are 2 feet (0.6 meters) thick. The facility includes separate chambers for the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as a larger room for joint sessions. These are located in the "Exhibit Hall" of the West Virginia Wing, which includes vehicular and pedestrian entrances that can be quickly sealed by 20-ton blast doors. The site was designed to house about 1,000 people for two months, although plans called for commandeering the entire resort (capacity: 6,500 persons) in the event of an emergency. While the cost of maintaining the facility for more than 30 years is unknown, construction costs from 1959 to 1962 totaled some $86 million.(14)

What Does Congress Know about Mount Weather?

According to the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights hearings in 1975, Congress has 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."

Apparently, this underground capital of the United States is a secret only to Congress and the US taxpayers who paid for it. The Russians know about it, as reported in Time: "Few in the U.S. government will speak of it, though it is assumed that all along the Soviets have known both its precise location and its mission (unlike the Congress, since Bray wouldn't tell); defense experts take it as a given that the site is on the Kremlin's targeting maps." The Russians attempted to buy real estate right next door, as a "country estate" for their embassy folks, but that deal was dead-ended by the State Department.

Mount Weather's "Government In Waiting"

Pollock's report, based on his interviews with former officials at Mount Weather, contains astounding information on the base's personnel. The underground city contains a parallel government-in-waiting: "High-level Governmental sources, speaking in the promise of strictest anonymity, told me [Pollock] that each of the Federal departments represented at Mount Weather is headed by a single person on whom is conferred the rank of a Cabinet-level official. Protocol even demands that subordinates address them as 'Mr. Secretary.' Each of the Mount Weather 'Cabinet members' is apparently appointed by the White House and serves an indefinite term...many through several Administrations.... The facility attempts to duplicate the vital functions of the Executive branch of the Administration."

Nine Federal departments are replicated within Mount Weather (Agriculture; Commerce; Health, Education Housind & Urban Development; Interior; Labor; State; Transportation; and Treasurey) as well as at least five Federal agencies (Federal Communications Commission, Selective Service, Federal Power Commission, Civil Service Commission, and the Veterans Administration). The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Post Office, both private corporations, also have offices in Mount Weather.

Pollock writes that the "cabinet members" are "apparently" appointed by the White House and serve an indefinite term, but that information cannot be confirmed, raising the further question of who holds the reins on this "back-up government." Furthermore, appointed Mount Weather officials hold their positions through several elected administrations, transcending the time their appointers spend in office".

Is there an alternative President and Vice President as well? If so, who appoints them? Pollock says only this: "As might be expected, there is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather. The Federal Preparedness Agency (precursor to FEMA) apparently appoints a special staff to the Presidential section, which regularly receives top secret national security estimates and raw data from each of the Federal departments and agencies.

What Do They Do At Mount Weather?

Collect Data on American Citizens

The Senate Subcommittee in 1975 learned that the "facility held dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans. [Senator] John Tunney later alleged that the Mount Weather computers can obtain millions of pieces of additional information on the personal lives of American citizens simply by tapping the data stored at any of the other ninety-six Federal Relocation Centers." The subcommittee concluded that Mount Weather's databases "operate with few, if any, safeguards or guidelines."

Store Necessary Information

The Progressive article detailed that "General Bray gave Tunney's 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." This massive database fits cleanly into Mount Weather's ultimate purpose as the command center in the event of a national emergency.

Play War Games

This is the main daily activity of the approximately 240 people who work at Mount Weather. The games are intended to train the Mount Weather bureaucracy to managing a wide range of problems associated with both war and domestic political crises. Decisions are made in the "Situation Room," the base's nerve center, located in the core of Mount Weather. The Situation Room is the archetypal war room, with "charts, maps and whatever visuals may be needed" and "batteries of communications equipment connecting Mount Weather with the White House and 'Raven Rock' - the underground Pentagon sixty miles north of Washington - as well as with almost every US military unit stationed around the globe," according to the Progressive article. "All internal communications are conducted by closed-circuit color television ... senior officers and 'Cabinet members' have two consoles recessed in the walls of their office."

Descriptions of the war games read a bit like a Ian Fleming novel. Every year there is a system-wide alert that "includes all military and civilian-run underground installations." The real, above ground President and his Cabinet members are "relocated" to Mount Weather to observe the simulation. Post-mortems are conducted and the margins for error are calculated after the games. All the data is studied and documented.

Civil Crisis Management

Mount Weather personnel study more than war scenarios. Domestic "crises" are also tracked and watched, and there have been times when Mount Weather almost swung into action, as Pollock reported:

"Officials who were at Mount Weather during the 1960s say the complex was actually prepared to assume certain governmental powers at the time of the 1961 Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. 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, the sources said."

In its 1974 Annual Report, the Federal Preparedness Agency 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." The Mount Weather facility uses a vast array of resources to continually monitor the American. According to Daniel J. Cronin, former assistant director for the FPA, Reconnaissance satellites, local and state police intelligence reports, and Federal law enforcement agencies are just a few of the resources available to the FPA [now FEMA] for information gathering. "We try to monitor situations and get to them before they become emergencies," Cronin said. "No expense is spared in the monitoring program."

Maintain and Update the "Survivors List"

Using all the data generated by the war games and domestic crisis scenarios, the facility continually maintains and updates a list of names and addresses of people deemed to be "vital" to the survival of the nation, or who can "assist essential and non-interruptible services." In the 1976 article, the "survivors list" contained 6,500 names, but even that was deemed to be low.

Who Pays for Mount Weather?   What Does It Cost?

At the same time tens of millions of dollars were being spent on maintaining and upgrading the complex to protect several hundred designated officials in the event of nuclear attack, the US government drastically reduced its emphasis on war preparedness for US citizens. A 1989 FEMA brochure entitled "Are You Prepared?" suggests that citizens construct makeshift fallout shelters using furniture, books, and other common household items.

Officially, Mount Weather (and its budget) does not exist. FEMA refuses to answer inquiries about the facility; as FEMA spokesman Bob Blair told Time magazine, "I'll be glad to tell you all about it, but I'd have to kill you afterward."

We don't know how much Mount Weather has cost over the years, but of course, American taxpayers bear this burden as well. A Christian Science Monitor article entitled "Study Reveals US Has Spent $4 Trillion on Nukes Since '45" reports that "The government devoted at least $12 billion to civil defense projects to protect the population from nuclear attack. But billions of dollars more were secretly spent on vast underground complexes from which civilian and military officials would run the government during a nuclear war."

What is Mount Weather's Ultimate Purpose?

We have seen that Mount Weather contains an unelected, parallel "government-in-waiting" ready to take control of the United States upon word from the President or his successor. The facility contains a massive database of information on U.S. citizens which is operated with no safeguards or accountability. Ostensibly, this expensive hub of America's network of sub-terran bases was designed to preserve our form of government during a nuclear holocaust.

But Mount Weather is not simply a Cold War holdover. Information on command and control strategies during national emergencies have largely been withheld from the American public. Executive Order 11051, signed by President Kennedy on October 2, 1962, states that "national preparedness must be achieved... as may be required to deal with increases in international tension with limited war, or with general war including attack upon the United States."

However, Executive Order 11490, drafted by Gen. George A Lincoln (former director for the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the FPA's predecessor) and signed by President Nixon in October 1969, tells a different story. EO 11490, which superceded Kennedy's EO 11051, begins, "Whereas our national security is dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national emergency type situation that might conceivably confront the nation..."

Nixon's order makes no reference to "war," "imminent attack," or "general war." These quantifiers are replaced by an extremely vague "national emergency type situation" that "might conceivably" interfere with the workings of the national power structure. Furthermore, there is no publicly known Executive Order outlining the restoration of the Constitution after a national emergency has ended. Unless the parallel government at Mount Weather does not decide out of the goodness of its heart to return power to Constitutional authority, the United States could experience a coup d'etat posing as a national emergency. Like the enigmatic Area 51 in Nevada, the Federal government wants to keep the Mount Weather facility buried in secrecy. Public awareness of the facility and its purpose would raise serious questions about who holds the reins of power in this country. The Constitution states that those reins lie in the hands of the people, but the very existence of Mount Weather suggests an entirely different reality. As long as Mount Weather exists, these questions will remain.

At one point, the government asked the local paper not to print any articles about the facility. But it is all but impossible to keep such a place secret. The Appalachian Trail runs right by Mount Weather, and hikers can get close enough to see signs and flashing lights. One sign reads: "All persons and vehicles entering hereon are liable to search. Photographing, making notes, drawings, maps or graphic representations of this area or its activities are prohibited." In the late 1960s an unidentified "hippie" is supposed to have stumbled upon the facility and sketched it from a tree. His drawing turned up in the QUICKSILVER TIMES, an underground newspaper in Washington. Residents also tell of the time a hunt club chased a fox onto the site and triggered an alarm. The club had to go to the main gate to get the dogs back.

You don't get into Mount Weather without an invitation. The entrance is said to be like the door to a bank vault, only thicker, set into a mountain made out of the toughest granite in the East. It is guarded around the clock.

Calvin Coolidge talked about building a summer White House there. In World War I it was an artillery range, and during the Depression it was a work farm for hobos. Mount Weather as an alternate capital seems to have been the idea of Millard F. Caldwell, former governor of Florida.

There is a fallout shelter under the East Wing of the White House. No one believes it offers any real protection from a nuclear attack on Washington, however. FEMA has elaborate plans for getting the president and other key officials out of Washington should there be a nuclear attack.

In that event, the president is supposed to board a Boeing 747 National Emergency Airborne Command Post ("Kneecap"). That is presumed to be safer than any point on the ground. The president's plane can be refueled in the air from other planes and may be able to stay airborne for as long as three days. Then its engine will conk out for lack of oil. That is where Mount Weather comes in.

Government geologists selected the site because it has some of the most impregnable rock in the United States. The shelter was started in the Truman administration, and it took years to tunnel into the mountain.

There is a whole chain of shelters for leaders and critical personnel. The Federal Relocation Arc, a system of ninety-six shelters for specific U.S. Government agencies, sweeps through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. A duplicate of the Pentagon is located at a site called Raven Rock in Maryland. The administrative center of the whole system, and the place where the top civilians would go, is Mount Weather.

Mount Weather is much more than a fallout shelter; it is a troglodytic Levittown. In the mid-1970s Richard Pollack, a writer for PROGRESSIVE magazine, interviewed a number of persons who had been associated with Mount Weather. According to them, Mount Weather is an underground city with roads, sidewalks, and a battery-powered subway. A spring-fed artificial lake gleams in the fluorescent light. There are office buildings, cafeterias, and hospitals. Large dormitories are furnished with bunks or "hot cots" -- hammocks intended to be occupied in three eight-hour shifts. There are private apartments as well. Mount Weather has its own waterworks, food storage, and power plant. A "bubble-shaped pod" in the East Tunnel houses one of the most powerful computers in the world.

The Situation Room, a circular chamber, would be a nerve center in the time of war. The Mount Weather folks set great store by visual aids and retain artists and cartographers at all times. A futuristic color videophone system is the basic means of communication within Mount Weather's subterranean world. "All important staff meetings were conducted via color television as far back as 1958, long before it was generally available to the public," one former staffer bragged.

The most surprising of Pollack's revelations is that Mount Weather has a working back-up of U.S. Government EVEN NOW.

Undisclosed persons there duplicate the responsibilities of our elected leaders, making Mount Weather an eerie doppelganger of the United States.

An Office of the Presidency is ensconced in an underground wing known as the White House. The elected president or survivor closest in the chain of command would make his way there and take over the reins. Until then, a staffer appointed by FEMA would be carrying out duties said to simulate those of the real president.

There is a body of opinion that considers Mount Weather obsolete. Mount Weather is a non-movable target, and a very strategic one if the relocation works. The "toughest granite in the East" may have offered some protection in Eisenhower's time, but multiple strikes could blast the mountain away. It was reported that the TWA jet crash knocked out power at Mount Weather for two-and-a-half hours. What would a bomb do?

The Soviet Union knows exactly where Mount Weather is -- and almost certainly knew long before the Western press did. The Soviets tried to buy an estate near Mount Weather as a "vacation retreat" for embassy employees. The State Department stopped the sale.

The Survivor List

In 1975, General Bray told the Senate that the Mount Weather survivor list had sixty-five hundred names on it. Who might be included?

The president, of course, provided he survives his Kneecap command. The vice-president and Cabinet members are on the list, because they take part in the annual dry runs. Beyond that, little is known and the few existing accounts conflict.

For instance, what about Congress? General Bray said that his responsibilities included the executive branch only, not Congress or the Supreme Court. But in an interview in 1976, Senator Hubert Humphrey insisted that he had visited the shelter as vice-president and seen "a nice little chamber, rostrum and all," for post nuclear sessions of Congress.

Furthermore, Earl Warren is said to have been invited when he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Warren refused because he was not allowed to take his wife. The protocol for ordering persons to Mount Weather specifies that messages not be left with family members answering the phone.

The vast majority of the persons on the list are believed to be ranking bureaucrats from the nine federal agencies with branches at Mount Weather. Pollack said he heard stories that some construction workers were on the list "because, the Mount Weather analysts reasoned, excavation work for mass graves would be needed immediately in the aftermath of a thermonuclear war." General Bray admitted that some others such as telephone company technicians are included.

Each person on the "survival list" has an identification card with a photo. The card reads ...

The Person Described On This Card Has Essential Emergency Duties With
The Federal Government. Request Full Assistance And Unrestricted
Movement Be Afforded To The Person To Whom This Card Is Issued.

"High-level government sources, speaking under the promise of strict anonymity, told me that each of the federal departments represented at Mount Weather is headed by a single person on who is conferred Cabinet-level official," Pollack reported. "Protocol even demands that subordinates address them as 'Mr. Secretary.' Each of the Mount Weather 'Cabinet members' is apparently appointed by the White House and serves an indefinite term. Many of the 'secretaries' have held their positions through several administrations."


(1) Until 1983, this aircraft, then known as the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, was based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, a short helicopter ride from the White House. That year, in response to long-standing concerns about the vulnerability of the aircraft to an attack by Soviet SLBMs, the DOD assistant secretary responsible for C3I issues testified before Congress that NEACP would be moved inland to an undisclosed location where it could take off and rendezvous with the president, who would be evacuated from Washington by helicopter (maintained on alert at the Marine Corps Air Facility in Quantico, Virginia). The day after this testimony, Senator Dan Quayle (Republican of Indiana) surprised the DOD by issuing a press release announcing the stationing of NEACP at Grissom Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana (more than 50 miles [80.5 kilometers] north of Indianapolis). Quayle told reporters he had personally lobbied to have the aircraft transferred to Grissom to keep the base there open and to ensure that the surrounding community reaped the $4.6 million in extra spending generated by NEACP's presence. See Ford, The Button, pp. 136-137.

(2) The first president to fly on NEACP was Jimmy Carter. The last was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who used it to travel from Texas to Washington, D.C. on November 15, 1981.

(3) For a graphical depiction of NEACP and a general discussion of its capabilities, see Kenneth J. Stein, "America's Top-Secret Doomsday Plane," Popular Mechanics, May 1994, pp. 38-41.

(4) Ford, The Button, p. 163.

(5) From its creation, until October 1, 1997, Site R was operated by Fort Ritchie, Maryland. The impending closure of Fort Ritchie under a base realignment initiative necessitated the shirt to Fort Detrick. In 1992 Colonel Mark Scuerman, the site's commandant, proposed opening the facility for public tours, a plan rejected by DOD officials. See "Underground Pentagon Command to be Shifted," Baltimore Sun, April 29, 1996, p. 2B; Associated Press, "Secret Ceremony Seals Handover at Secret Site," Washington Times, October 13, 1997, p. A4.

(6) David W. Shircliffe, NORAD's Underground COC, Initial Requirement to Initial Operation: 1956-1966, Historical Reference Paper 12, NORAD Public Affairs Office, January 1966 (classified, released with deletions under the Freedom of Information Act); U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Omaha District), The Federal Engineer-Damsites to Missile Sites: A History of the Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Omaha, Nebr., 1984), pp. 199-213.

(7) This system was entirely dependent on commercial telephone and telegraph lines and was thus susceptible to power outages and other phenomena that limited its reliability. Although it helped in at least one instance (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) to confirm a false warning of missile attack by failing to signal a nuclear detonation, during the Northeast power blackout on November 9, 1965 the system's console at Mount Weather correctly noted the power outage at twenty-two sensor sites, but also reported that weapons had just exploded near Salt Lake City, Utah, and Charlotte, North Carolina. This condition triggered the full alert of the facility. It was only several days after the event that it was determined that the two detonation indications had been caused by faulty wiring in the console itself. Had such an error occurred during a time of international tension, the consequences could have far more serious. See Sagan, The Limits of Safety, pp. 130, 171, 183.

(8) Ted Gup, "Doomsday Hideaway," Time, December 9, 1991, pp. 26-29.

(9) Gup, "The Doomsday Blueprints," pp. 32-39.

(10) Telephone conversation, Stephen I. Schwartz, with G.R. Schaar, vice president, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, December 31, 1997. After 1988, this money was dispersed to various Federal Reserve banks and passed into general circulation. Gold was also stored at the site for a time. Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III (New York, Viking Press, 1984) pp. 287-88; Gup, "The Doomsday Blueprints," p. 38; David C. Morrison, " And Not a Single Bang for Their Bucks," National Journal, August 13, 1994, pp. 1924-25.

(11) Richard Tapscott, "In Virginia, a Fortress for a Film Collection," Washington Post, November 16, 1997, p. B3.

(12) Following the removal by the government of certain classified equipment, the Greenbrier's owner, the CSX Corporation, began offering tours of the bunker in April 1996.

(13) Jim Stewart, report on the CBS Evening News, December 17, 1995.

(14) Ted Gup, "The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway," Washington Post Magazine, May 31, 1992, pp. 10-15, 24-27; Tom Curley, "Inside Look at Cold War Secret," USA Today, November 7, 1995, p. 10A. (Construction costs of $14 million then-year dollars cited in this article were confirmed by Ted J. Kleisner, president and managing director of the Greenbrier, e-mail communication, July 31, 1997.)

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