What's It Like Inside The Cold War Bunkers Designed To Keep The President Safe During Nuclear War?

The US government seems to know far too much about its citizens, so it's disturbing to realize how little citizens know about the governing body. Learning what happens inside presidential bunkers and where the president would go during a nuclear attack is useful information, though.

These bunkers were built in the middle of the 20th century, largely as a response to the mounting nuclear panic that accompanied the Cold War. Raven Rock, built in 1951, was one of the predominant shelters. From the underground city at the Raven Rock Mountain Complex in Pennsylvania, to the Greenbrier Bunker that's hidden in plain sight under a luxury resort in West Virginia, to the top-secret NORAD lair at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, these bunkers are incredibly secure.

These doomsday safe houses don't benefit the humble civilian. Rather, they are members-only lairs for a select number of government officials, havens for times of despair.


  • The Greenbrier Bunker Was Stocked With Bunkbeds And Anti-Depressants
    Photo: Boston Public Library / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Greenbrier Bunker Was Stocked With Bunkbeds And Anti-Depressants

    Despite its location under the bright, luxurious grounds of the Greenbrier Resort, the West Virginia bunker is a dreary, sterile place. Plus, the space was commissioned to be as large as a Walmart. 

    Now decommissioned and open for tours (since the Washington Post outed the bunker in 1992), visitors can see what conditions the president and other officials would have endured.

    Rows of 1,100 bunkbeds with names assigned to them for select government officials fill the drab bunker. However, officials weren't even allowed to bring their families to the shelter; they'd have to abandon their loved ones. Unsurprisingly, the bunker infirmary was well-stocked with anti-depressants.


  • The Government Made Up A Fake Company For Greenbrier Bunker Employees

    The government created fake company Forsyth Associates as a cover for employees at the Greenbrier Bunker. Not only was the small group of employees responsible for the bunker's maintenance, the secret hires also repaired televisions for almost 800 rooms in the resort.

    For 30 years, employees replaced filters, restocked pharmaceuticals, and refreshed the food supply. Their presence alerted civilians about the bunker's existence.

  • The Cheyenne Mountain Complex Has A Subway Cafe And A Full Cafeteria
    Photo: US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Cheyenne Mountain Complex Has A Subway Cafe And A Full Cafeteria

    Just because it's doomsday doesn't mean you can't eat fresh. That's right, deep in the Cheyenne Mountain bunker, employees can grab a meatball sub from Subway while watching for any potential airborne threats. There are also TV screens that live-stream the outside world, but a level one security clearance is needed to enter the facility.

    Additionally, the bunker's 24-hour cafeteria serves up intricate meals, but a military cook will begin rationing in the case of a real disaster. 

  • There Is A Power Plant, A Police Department, And A Fire Department At The Raven Rock Complex

    One of the larger presidential bunkers, the Pennsylvanian Raven Rock is equipped with both police and fire departments, as well as a fully functioning power plant.

    It's like an underground city. When the Department of Defense began construction in 1951, officials weren't even sure if there was a contractor capable of erecting what was essentially a three-story city inside a mountain. Luckily, the firm responsible for the New York Subway - Parsons Brinckerhoff - was able to complete the job. The media nicknamed the space "Harry's Hole," after discovering President Harry Truman had approved the project.

  • Raven Rock Was Almost Shut Down For Good
    Photo: National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Raven Rock Was Almost Shut Down For Good

    After the Cold War ended and the fear of nuclear attack slowly tapered off, many officials questioned the need for keeping the Raven Rock bunker. It cost millions of dollars a year for basic upkeep, and one government official even remarked:

    You’d feel like you’re walking into a dinosaur [because the place is so outdated].

    In 1991, President George H.W. Bush halted 24-hour operations there, and the facility seemed desolate. However, 9/11 changed everything; the government decided to allocate about $652 million towards Raven Rock upgrades. The annual budget of the facility skyrocketed and new fuel reserves were included as well.

  • Raven Rock Has 900,000 Feet Of Office Space
    Photo: US Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Raven Rock Has 900,000 Feet Of Office Space

    One of the nation's more active doomsday bunkers, the Raven Rock facility received upgrades in 2012. Contractors added 27 new fuel tanks, each of which contain up to 20,000 gallons of gasoline.

    Additionally, the facility's original 100,000 square feet of office space has been increased to 900,000. There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 employees, but no family members are welcome in the Raven Rock bunker. Family members will, however, be allowed to make visits if disaster does strike.