Presidential Emergency Facility Site 5 -"Crystal" East and West

Mt Weather near Winchester, Va.
Crystal East tower on the left (2015) at the Mt. weather PEF

 1,670 feet
 Loudoun County, near Winchester Virginia
 Blue Ridge Mountains
 39° 6′ 40″ N, 77° 50′ 2″ W

The Mount Weather Special Facility is a civilian command facility in 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 (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.  


Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, access to the operations center is available via Virginia State Route 601 (also called Blue ridge Mountain Road) in Bluemont, Virginia. The facility is located near Berryville, 48 air miles from Washington, D.C. The underground facility within Mount Weather, designated "Area B", and was completed in 1959. FEMA established training facilities on the mountains surface ("Area A") in 1979.

The above-ground portion of the FEMA complex (Area A) is at least 434 acres (1.76 km2). This measurement includes a training area of unspecified size. Area B, the underground component, contains 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2).

Tower History and Purpose

The famous Mount Weather Special Facility, a federal Continuity of Government installation and a Presidential relocation site, featured a White House Communications Agency (WHCA) switchboard and communication center, and two hardened microwave towers linking it to the other White House emergency sites.

These cylindrical concrete towers were similar in design to the Cannonball facility, but were almost completely underground except for the plexiglas-covered antenna decks which comprised the two uppermost levels of the towers. The towers were connected by tunnels to Mount Weather's main underground complex. This Facility also interfaced directly with the Civil Defense Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) located at Mt Weather allowing video interface with the WHCA microwave network.

The Crystal towers are located on the east and west sides of Mount Weather; the east tower's microwave link connected to the Cartwheel facility, and the west tower's microwave link communicated with a relay station code-named Cowpuncher, located on Roundtop Mountain west of Martinsburg, WV. Cowpuncher was identical to the Cannonball tower, but it has been demolished and no evidence of it remains at the site.

The Crystal towers are still intact and their environmental systems are operational, but all of their communications equipment has been removed.

The WHCA operation was located in Mount Weather's Building 13. The location of that building is unknown to this author, but since the above-ground buildings at Mount Weather have numbers greater than 100, it is reasonable to assume that 13 is in the underground space. There is informed speculation that the building is on the east side of the site.

Mt Weather near Winchester VA
(Crystal West and East Tower)
Crystal West Tower
Crystal East Tower
 Cross Section of the East and West Towers  

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the history of Mount weather from the 60's on. I was assigned to mount Weather (Crystal) in the mid 50's before there was even a hole in the ground. Place consisted of two brick buildings dating from the Weather Service, the Operations building and the Administrative building, a warehouse/maintenance facility and a small three bedroom cottage where we stayed. There was the Civil Defense coordinator, Harold Hallfish, a Bureau of Mines engineer making soundings of the Mountain, GSA guards and about a dozen White House GI's, Switchboard and radio maintenance types. I returned in the 80's to attend a Civil Defense exercise inside the mountain and was really amazed to see the place.