The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center (MWEOC) is a national command facility located in the U.S. state of Virginia, used as the center of operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Also known as the High Point Special Facility (HPSF), its preferred designation since 1991 is "SF." The facility is a major relocation site for the highest level of civilian and military officials in case of national disaster, playing a major role in U.S. “continuity of government” plans (per the Continuity of Operations Plan). Mount Weather is the location of a control station for the FEMA National Radio System (FNARS), a high frequency radio system connecting most federal public safety agencies and U.S. military with most of the states. FNARS allows the president to access the Emergency Alert System.
During the early 1900s, the site was originally acquired by the National Weather Bureau to launch weather balloons and kites for upper air research. After World War I, Calvin Coolidge reportedly talked about constructing a summer White House at Mount Weather. Over the years, ownership transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of Emergency Preparedness, the General Services Administration, and in 1979 to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), upon its creation. Today, MWEOC provides FEMA and other government agencies office space for their emergency management operations.
MWEOC was kept private for most of its existence. The MWEOC was constructed for the purpose of providing a safe and functional space for the continuity of federal government operations in the event of a major catastrophy such as a nuclear attack, fast moving pandemic or alien invasion of earth from non-terrestrial beings. As such, the facility has been veiled in secrecy and mystery for most of the past 75 years (and has generated a lot of speculation).
Other than the brief vague acknowledgements, little additional and specific information about the mysterious facility has leaked out to the public over the years. Residents and community leaders in nearby Berryville, Virginia, have said that MWEOC is a large employer but remains largely a widespread mystery to townspeople and even some of the facilities own employees. Many employees are told to keep their specific work assignments secret. Aerial footage of the facility show gated, locked equipment protruding from the ground. Tall security fencing surrounds the complex's entire perimeter.
The MWEOC site was first brought into the general public’s eye by The Washington Post, when the government facility was mentioned while reporting on the December 1, 1974, crash into Mount Weather of TWA Flight 514, a Boeing 727 jetliner. Since then, MWEOC’s publicly acknowledged assets include: office and warehouse space; dormitory and training rooms; conference rooms with classified capability up to 125 people; café that seats over 280 personnel; fully equipped fire department, ambulance service operated and staffed by FEMA Firefighters; health unit staffed by medical personnel; federal police force providing 24-hour, seven-day a-week security; motor pool with shuttle service, courier services and local supply pickups; wastewater treatment facility; and training rooms.
Click here to see the You Tube Video about Mt. Weather
Between 1979 and 1981, the National Gallery of Art developed a program to transport valuable paintings in its collection to Mount Weather via helicopter in critical situations. The success of the relocation would presumably depend upon how far in advance the warning of an attack was received. According to a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, after the September 11 attacks, most of the congressional leadership was evacuated to Mount Weather by helicopter. After a major electrical power interruption hit Washington, D.C. in early April 2015, the government once again briefly activated the secretive facility at Mt. Weather.
The MWEOC facility was created as a direct support for the national government continuity of operations mission. The MWEOC mission is to be “ready to support our partners at all times, under all conditions.” The breadth and depth of capabilities offered by Mount Weather make it a very unique facility.
The MWEOC supports a variety of emergency management missions, some classified. The Center is engaged in a massive infrastructure upgrade and has enacted its five-year Master Plan for the modernization of the site. FEMA’s MWEOC oversees the Olney Federal Support Center (Olney FSC) in Olney, Maryland. The Olney FSC is a much smaller facility providing federal agencies with office space. “FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, and recover from, and mitigate all hazards.” FEMA seeks healthcare providers for “secret” continuity of government site.
The MWEOC core mission is to ensure the continuity of operations of the U.S. Federal Government during any major catastrophic event. The U.S. Federal Government is not the only entity which plans for the continuity of operations. In fact, most businesses, enterprises, agencies and NGO organizations likewise should develop continuity of operations plans for the event of serious disruptions and business continuity vulnerabilities.
Continuity of Operations (COOP)
Continuity of operations is the continuation of essential mission critical functions and services during disasters, emergencies, crises and other significant disruptions. Typically the program to ensure this continuity is accomplished through a continuity of operations program (COOP). The development, maintenance, training, exercising and strategy of maintaining a COOP plan requires an actively managed effort geared towards ensuring that an organization is capable of carrying out its essential functions despite any disruption.
What is Your Continuity of Operations Plan?
Although constructing a semi-secret continuity of operations facility in the nearby mountains is probably excessive for most businesses, agencies, schools, and organizations, the MWEOC complex is a reminder that it is important to have a continuity of operations plan and take steps in advance to prepare for unforeseen catastrophic events.
There are a number of resources available to help you prepare to continue your mission critical work during disruptions and contingencies. Professional planning assistance is also available. One of the keys of continuity of operations is sustained and effective communication. This includes aspects of planning, leadership, coordination, process control, notification, rumor and misinformation control, customer/client satisfaction, regulatory oversight, social media, brand and reputation issues, assessment, evaluation, and revising the plan. Your efforts may not require of act of congress to create an expensive and exclusive bunker but you can certainly enhance resilience with appropriate planning and preparedness. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in assisting your continuity of operations plan development and planning process.
Images: Mt. Weather, USGS Aerial Images, April 1965