Near Washington, Preparing for the Worst

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

T.R. Reid just scratched the surface concerning Cold War-era emergency command posts in writing about the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado ["Military to Idle NORAD Compound," news story, July 29]. Unmentioned were two of the largest and most significant sites supporting highly secret "continuity of government" plans intended to ensure the government's survival during and after a nuclear war.

For decades, the High Point Special Facility, a 600,000-square-foot complex inside Virginia's Mount Weather (48 miles by air from Washington, near Berryville), served as the main relocation site for the White House, the Supreme Court and much of the executive branch. On Sept. 11, 2001, most of the congressional leadership was evacuated to the site by helicopter.

To the northeast, on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border near Camp David, is Site R, formally known as the Alternate Joint Communications Center. With more than 700,000 feet of usable floor space inside Raven Rock Mountain, Site R was designed to house 3,000 people and function as a backup Pentagon. It also served as Vice President Cheney's "secure, undisclosed location" following Sept. 11 and for much of 2002.

Even less well known is the so-called Federal Relocation Arc around Washington, in which every Cabinet department (and every government organization deemed essential) maintains its own emergency backup facility. Many were activated and staffed for months following Sept. 11. And in mid-June some 4,000 employees from 50 to 60 federal agencies participated in Forward Challenge '06, the largest ever continuity-of-government exercise.



The Nonproliferation Review

Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Monterey Institute of International Studies

Monterey, Calif.

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