Alternate National Warning Facility, Olney

Manned 24 hours a day, this is FEMA’s backup facility to Mt. Weather. In the event of a national emergency, this facility could be used to issue warnings and official announcements. It is also FEMA’s main radio communications facility.

The National Warning System (NWS) was created in the 1950s to alert the nation in the event of a nuclear attack. With the establishment of FEMA, NWS’s responsibilities were expanded to include all emergency situations, such as natural disasters. Nonetheless, the charter of NWS says its functions are “to support the military effort; to ensure continuity of Federal authority at national and regional levels; and to ensure survival as a free and independent nation under all emergency conditions, including a national emergency caused by threatened or actual attack on the United States.” In short, this facility is a part of various Continuity of Government (COG) programs. It backs up the main COG operations at Mt. Weather and also serves as the hub of FEMA’s national radio communications network.

What’s There: It is known that much of this installation is located underground; rumors say it has anywhere from two to 20 levels underground. Numerous antenna towers and satellite dishes are visible from the air, indicating there is transmitting and receiving equipment at the site. It can also be assumed there must be backup generating systems and other power supplies. Persons who worked on upgrading the facility in the mid-1980s reported there were also offices and barracks inside. While the facility appears a bit neglected from the road, it is actually a high-security installation; trespassers will be stopped and run the risk of arrest.

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Getting a Look Inside: Dream on!

Listening In: The call sign of the station here is WGY903, and it is the network control station for FEMA’s “national emergency coordination network.” If you have a shortwave radio capable of receiving upper sideband (USB) transmissions, try listening to 10493 kHz during the daytime and to 5211 kHz at night. These are the common shortwave frequencies used by FEMA facilities across the country for their on-the-air drills and exercises. As network control, WGY903 will determine which stations will transmit and what messages, if any, they can transmit to other stations.

Unusual Fact: This was a Nike missile site before it became a FEMA facility, so there must be at least two levels underground here because all Nike sites had a minimum of two underground levels.

Getting There: The entrance is at 5321 Riggs Road, off of Route 108, between Olney and Laytonsville.

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