Mount Weather, Virginia, is one of the United States Continuity of Government (COG) safety sites, though its exact COG functions are undisclosed. In the event of a national disaster that threatens normal government operations in Washington, D.C., facilities in locations such as Mount Weather are used to coordinate vital national operations. The facility is currently managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is the home of the National Emergency Coordinating Center. The center manages FEMA operations after natural disasters and trains emergency management personnel. Though FEMA agents mostly handle more localized natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes, personnel are also trained to handle terrorist and massive attack scenarios.
The 434-acre mountain area that became Mount Weather was acquired by the National Weather Bureau (later, National Weather Service) in 1893. The bureau used the site to launch weather balloons and conduct atmospheric research. In the decades preceding World War I, the Weather Bureau monitored a series of kite stations on the site. The Army created an artillery range on the site at the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914. In 1936, the government granted Mount Weather to the Bureau of Mines. A series of tunneling experiments revealed that the mountain had an extremely dense and stable rock composition favorable to extensive tunnel construction. Recognizing the importance of such a site within a short distance of the national capital, the government restricted use of Mount Weather and planned to build a series of underground bunkers. Construction on the site was halted by World War II.
Amidst Cold War tensions, the government took a renewed interest in Mount Weather. In 1954, the Bureau of Mines began construction on the site's network of tunnels and underground rooms. Soon after construction started, security concerns prompted the government to shift control of the project to the military and the Army Corps of Engineers finished construction of the subterranean facility in 1958. The facility was named "High Point" and was maintained as a shelter for government officials in the event of an attack on Washington, D.C. The underground structure contains offices, sleeping quarters, a hospital, independent water, sewage, and power systems, and radio, television, and computer networks. Estimates on its capacity vary, but Mount Weather is assumed to be able to support over 200 residents for one month.
FEMA was granted control of the premises in 1979, but much of the facility remains classified. FEMA's aboveground facility serves as a command base for its national all-hazards operations. The communication networks located in the underground structure are part of the Emergency Broadcasting System, the national emergency alert system. The Resource Interruption Monitoring System (RIMS) tracks daily function and activity of vital national resources such as power systems and oil reserves. The Contingency Impact Analysis System (CIAS) creates and directs simulations of emergencies for training and readiness assessment purposes.
The largest operational center on the site is the FEMA Mount Weather Assistance Center. The center administers FEMA's aid operations and often processes calls regarding aid requests and claims immediately following a disaster. While regional FEMA offices are equipped to handle most emergencies, the Mount Weather site is frequently active as a reserve operations post for disaster mitigation. Though FEMA continues operations on the site, the Continuity of Government emergency plan and facilities at Mount Weather have only been activated on two occasions. The first full-scale activation occurred during the Northeastern power blackout of November 9, 1965. More recently, some Mount Weather COG measures were set in motion after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A government initiated expansion and renovation of many Mount Weather facilities began in 2001.
█ FURTHER READING:
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center homepage. <http://www.fema.gov/pte/weather.htm> (November 20, 2002).
Continuity of Government, United States
Emergency Response Teams