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Early Presidential Emergency Facilities(PEF) (1965-1970)

Presidential Emergency Facility Sites

Cannonball Tower on Cross Mountain Pa.(note the tower on the summit)
Site Code Name
Other Name
Camp David
Thurmont, Maryland
Cross Mountain
Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Roundtop Summit, WV
Fort Reno
Washington, D.C.
Mt. Weather
Berryville, Virginia
Site R (Raven Rock)
Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Lamb’s Knoll
Frederick County, Maryland
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Continuity of Government (The Undisclosed Location Disclosed)

When terrorists struck the morning of September 11, 2001, Vice President Richard Cheney was whisked from his Washington office to a secure “undisclosed location.” Cheney’s undisclosed location is rumored to have been a Cold War era facility buried deep beneath Raven Rock Mountain near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Located east of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, the Raven Rock Military Complex is also known as Site R and it was designed as the Alternate Joint Communications Center (AJCC) where senior military officials were to be taken in the event of a nuclear attack. Site R was among the first relocation facilities built in the 1950s and early 1960s as federal planners conceived of and realized a Federal Relocation Arc extending outwards from Washington where key documents and people could be sheltered during and after a nuclear exchange.

The Text Content of an article in The Hagerstown Morning Herald, July 25, 1977 is:

That silo isn’t for cattle

To the casual observer driving down Maryland Route 67 southwest of Boonsboro, the distant object on lop of South Mountain looks like a farmer’s silo.

Closer inspection would reveal that it is indeed a silo, but not the kind used to store cattle feed. This particular silo belongs to the US Navy and is one of at least three similar Top Secret Navy facilities in the Tri-State area. Two other silos are located atop mountain ridges in Pennsylvania and in West Virginia. Just what goes on inside the silos the Navy isn’t saying?

After repeated requests to the Navy for information on silos spokesman Ron Black gave this reply, “No information can be released its classified”.

According to residents of the area the Boonsboro silo was built sometime during the late 1960s. Like the others it is served by a narrow but a small road complete with guard rails. Although the Boonsboro silo is still in daily use the one located on Cross Mountain just inside the Pennsylvania state line north of Mercersburg was open earlier this year. The high chain link fence surrounding it has been ripped down and a heavy steel blast door leading into the silo was ajar recently. The silo is equipped with an elevator to each of its eight floors. Although much of the equipment inside has obviously been removed, much remains... Heavy air conditioning equipment, air filters and electrical panels are still in place. In an apparent effort to blast proof the equipment the panels arc mounted on heavy springs with coiled wire lo take up movement. The silo apparently housed offices. On the ceilings are fluorescent lamps. The floors are tiled.

Whatever goes on inside the silos it is not related to the Alternate National Military Command Center near Blue Summit Pa.? Sources at the Pentagon responsible for The Rock say they do not know anything about the Navy silos.

And until the Navy decides to talk its mysterious silos will remain one of the government secrets in the area.

The White House Communications Agency (WHCA) would play a key role in the implementation of Continuity of Government (COG) plan. The Continuity of Government is the principle of establishing defined procedures that allow a government to continue its essential operations in case of nuclear war or other catastrophic events. In 1954 a plan to implement emergency communications was developed and presented to the Secretary of Defense. A major element of this plan was an emergency relocation strategy which provided for the dispersal of essential elements of the Federal Government. This plan also addressed the necessary communications need by the President, and other Governmental agencies. Because little or no reliable communications were available in the emergency relocation areas, the Army Signal Corps was tasked with the planning, designing, engineering, installing and maintaining the communications support of this program.

These sites were constructed very quietly and actually hidden from the Public but in reality were in plain sight and visible from miles around, several of these Continuity of Government sites were built in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., these sites were designed to house large numbers of federal officials in underground bunkers while the exposed concrete towers that housed sophisticated radio equipment kept communications open among the survivors, the military, and civilian populations. These were among the first relocation facilities built in the 1950s and early 1960s as federal planners conceived of and realized a Federal Relocation Arc extending outwards from Washington were key documents and people could be sheltered during and after a nuclear exchange.

The Federal Relocation Arc included above- and below-ground sites located within a 300-mile radius of the nation’s capital. These sites were administered through the Executive branch’s White House Military Office (WHMO), while the communications personnel were attached to the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The Early Presidential Emergency Facilities (PEF) were literally holes in the ground, deep enough to withstand a nuclear blast and outfitted with elaborate communications equipment, funds to support the sites wound their way through a circuitous route in the Defense Department. All oversight for these facilities originated in the White House Military Office.

These sites in the Arc were the key to ensuring open lines of communications were built in a network that relied upon line-of-sight microwave technology, i.e., each transmitter and receiver had to have an unobstructed line-of-sight between its nearest neighbors for the network to be viable. These microwave hops were usually no more than fifty miles apart. I’m assuming that when they did their studies they knew specifically where the main terminals were going to be and they looked for locations that they had line of sight.

The microwave system connected the primary relocation facilities and key to this new communications network plan were:

  1. The White House and Camp David near Thurmont Md.
  1. The hardened Alternate Joint Communications Center (AJCC) at Ravens Rock, near Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. and Ft Ritchie, Md.
  1. The hardened Emergency Command Post and Relocation site for the Executive Branch of the Government at Mount Weather, near Winchester Va.
The microwave network would provide non-secure voice circuits terminating on manual switchboards, to be located at each of the primary relocation sites. The network would also provide secure teletype including the famous Moscow to Washington Hotline, and the Red Phone voice circuits between the President and the heads of all sensitive agencies. Finally the network would be capable of carrying broadcast video interfacing with the Emergency Broadcast System.

Cannonball Tower atop Cross Mt. near Mercersburg PA
Access rd. to Cannonball Tower (2010)
The concrete microwave towers would become known as the Presidential Emergency Facilities (PEF) and was built during the late 50’s early 60’s. Construction included the cylindrical tower and in some cases underground bunkers used to relocate the President, Vice President, Secret Service, and key members of the White House Staff. These facilities were all capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. The towers housed all of the communication equipment necessary to provide the emergency voice, radio and teletype communications required to continue inter-departmental communications.

Each of the sites included a 100-foot cylindrical tower, two-thirds of which was solidly built to house transmitters and receivers, supply rooms, and quarters for the skeleton staff which oversaw the facilities around the clock. The upper portions of the towers held parabolic antennas aimed towards the next facility in the network. These antennas were shielded by radio frequency-transparent Plexiglas that protected the antennas from the elements and concealed them from view while enabling radio waves to pass through. Some of these towers were connected to elaborate underground bunker complexes and entry to all of the facilities was through massive blast doors.

The microwave network which would connect Mount Weather with Camp David and Site R would be operated and maintained by the White House Army Signal Agency (WHASA). WHASA already had personnel in place at these principle relocation facilities and in 1962 would become the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The communication network was developed, installed and maintained by WHCA, and all of the towers in this network were staffed by WHCA personnel on a continuous basis.

Locator Map

Location of the Presidential Emergency Facilities.
Because the towers were highly visible yet top secret, no official explanation of their functions were ever released. Locals near the Cannonball Tower and Camp David’s Cactus site were believed to be water tanks. People around Mercersburg thought it was a water tower. We used to buy water from the City of Mercersburg and we had a water tanker that we’d haul water back up to the mountaintop so they saw that and they saw the water tanker and they just figured that they were getting better water pressure that way.

According to Cold War communications enthusiasts, the concrete towers were designed to deflect the force of a nuclear blast, all of the towers were constructed of solid reinforced concrete and the air system was filtered so that if anything did happen all the he air intakes would be shut down and you had a filtration system. Everything was engineered with the concrete structure able to withstand a nuclear attack. All of the towers were located in remote areas so the effects of a nuclear blast would be minimal. Now there was always a possibility of problems with the antenna decks but we had spare microwave dishes that could be put in temporarily if a blast was close enough to tear off some of the dishes. We had spare dishes that we could replace any damage in a fairly short period of time. 
Sites like Cactus, Crystal, Creed, Cartwheel, Corkscrew, Cowpuncher, and Cannonball were critical Continuity of Government sites during the Cold War. Their highly visible towers became part of an industrial landscape defined by telecommunications infrastructure essential to the information-based third industrial revolution. Beyond their highly function roles in the ubiquitous military industrial complex, they also were places where people worked and lived daily.  I had a lot of fun even though it was a job, I just had had a lot of fun working there. You know, the funny thing about it, I worked with people that were at Crystal, and Cadre for years after we closed down those sites. But we never discussed what went on at those locations.
The microwave systems were the major reason for the construction of the towers; however each tower was equipped with other radio systems. There were VHF FM base stations installed for the use by the Presidential motorcade. The Secret Service and the White House Stall also used these 2 way FM handheld mobile units. There was also an HF single sideband (SSB) radio system installed in every location capable of interfacing with the Air Force One, and other airborne commutations centers like Silver Dollar worldwide. The SSB radios could transmit voice on the upper sideband and TTY on the lower sideband. Finally UHF radios to communicate with Marine One.

We closed down Cannonball in 1970 shortly after significant upgrades were installed. Changes in communications technology and Continuity of Government plans obviated the 1950s facilities. Most of us were transferred to other WHCA facilities. 

Mt. Weather remains a top secret facility and Cannonball was abandoned with its tower exposed to the elements and vandals. The tower at Cactus (Camp David), and Cowpuncher Tower were demolished,  Creed Tower and both Crystal Towers have been abandoned in place at Site R and Mt. Weather respectively.

The communications equipment at Cannonball, Cowpuncher and Crystal facilities was removed in the mid 1970’s, Cadre/Creed was deactivated and all of the PEF tower facilities were officially closed on or about 1990.

Cartwheel Washington DC
Corkscrew Boonsboro MD
The emergency Continuation of Government plan was approved in 1954 and evolved into the seven locations that that would become the core Presidential Emergency Facilities (PEF) they were all cylindrical towers. The primary source of voice communications was the use of microwave radio systems interconnecting these seven locations. The microwave routes were installed to connect relocation sites at Mt. Weather, Camp David and the Pentagon (Site R) directly to the President wherever he might be at the time of the emergency.

WHCA Communications Facilities

Site1 Cactus (Camp David, Thurmont, MD.), the tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. The Tower was above ground level.

Site2 Cannonball (Mercersburg, PA.), the tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. The Tower was above ground level.

Site 3 Cowpuncher (Martinsburg, WV.), the tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. The Tower was above ground level.

Site 4 Cartwheel (Ft Reno Park, Washington DC.), the tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. The Tower was above ground level.

Site 5 Crystal, East and West Towers (Mt Weather, Winchester, VA.), both towers had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. Both of the towers only had the two top levels above ground and were accessed through Mt. Weather.

Mt Weather (Crystal West and East Towers)
Site 6 Creed Tower (Site R, Blue Ridge Summit, PA.), Creed tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas covered microwave dishes and other antennas. The tower only had the two top levels above ground. Creed Tower was a separate facility near Site R which housed all of the microwave equipment as well as the HF and FM radio equipment and had a separate entrance into the tower through its own blast door and tunnel at the base of the tower.

Site 7 Corkscrew (Boonsboro, MD.), the tower had eight floors plus two levels of Plexiglas to cover microwave dishes and other antennas. The Tower was above ground level.

Cactus (Camp David Thurmont Md.), Cactus had a two level bunker that was adjacent to the tower. The WHCA switch board and communications center was located within the bunker as well as sleeping quarters, water, food, and necessary supplies needed for survival. There was also a bunker built near Aspen Lodge specifically for the President and First Family.

Government Relocation Facilities

Relocation support functions in the event of a nuclear attack, was to be provided to key members of the Government and the Military at:

Cadre (Site R, Blue Ridge Summit Pa.), Cadre was a part of the underground facility at Site R. and was located on the 2nd floor of building C. This area housed the WHCA switchboard and communications center plus the Presidential Quarters if needed due to any emergency relocation.

Entrance to Site R (Cadre)
Corkscrew (Boonsboro Md.), Corkscrew had a two level bunker that circled the towers base. The WHCA communications center was located within the bunker.

Crystal (Mt Weather, Va.), Crystal was part of the Mt. Weather underground facility. The east and west towers were accessed by inter connecting tunnels. The WHCA switch board and communications center was part of the underground facility and located in Building 13.

Cartwheel (Washington DC), Cartwheel had a two level bunker that circled the Towers base. The WHCA secure switchboard and communications center was located within the bunker.

Crown (Washington DC). The White House
The White House (Crown)
The communications equipment at Cadre, Cannonball, Cowpuncher, and Crystal facilities was removed in the mid 1970’s. Primarily because of advancements in communications technology, these fixed locations became obsolete and were replaced in 1970 by strategically placed Communications Contingency Teams (CCT) at San Clemente CA, Key Biscayne FL, Ft Ritchie MD. and Andrews AFB MD; they were very mobile and could be deployed at a moment’s notice.

The microwave systems between Cactus, Cartwheel and Corkscrew were left in service at least through 1986, but they were only used as backup for the landlines to the White House. At least one system of the Raytheon KTR-1000 in each route was upgraded to a newer version that was partially transistorized but the rest of the systems remained all electron tubes.

During the Reagan Administration a new UHF system (AN/GRC-103 UHF FM radio with TD-660 Multiplexer 24 voice channels) was installed between Cartwheel, Corkscrew, and Cactus, but the microwave still remained operational. Cadre/Creed, although inactive all of the equipment in the tower was still operational and fully maintained.

All of the microwave routes were phased out in the early 1990's I can only assume that the FAA took over Cartwheel and Corkscrew at this time and when the tower at Cactus was demolished this brought to an end the communications network that started in 1954 and played such a major role in the Cold War.


  1. AbandonedInfrastructureLoverNovember 17, 2012 at 1:36 AM

    Great account from the navy guy who manned this tower, and thanks for the recent photos, as well. I guess modern comms infrastructure will more often leave less to explore decades from now. No need for a person to be packaged with a fiber optic repeater. Thanks again for posting!

  2. AbandonedInfrastructureLoverNovember 17, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    Oh, I think you are the Navy guy giving the account & taking the photos. I feel like a dolt... :-)

    1. Actually I was in the Army and NCOIC of the site, responsible for the communications, and the day to day operation of the site. There was a Navy Seabee assigned that was responsible for the tower, other buildings and the grounds. There were two temporary people rotating to the site on a weekly basis.

    2. I was one of the 'temporary people' back in 71-72, at one of the sites, about one week out of every five as I recall.

  3. John, did you get in touch with Tony Martin by chance? This is Dave Miller and I'd like to find out where he is and talk to him. Thanks

    1. Dave send me your E-mail address at and I will send you Tony's