News & Politics

Where the Federal Government Might Physically Go If It Can’t Keep Operating in DC Under Coronavirus

It's very unlikely at the moment. But Uncle Sam can relocate if necessary.

Mount Weather, one of Uncle Sam’s two bunker cities. Photograph by Karen Nutini/Official Federal Emergency Management Agency Photo.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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Coronavirus has led to cancellations and closures all over the country, including the Capitol. But what if the government had to socially distance itself from the entire country? Sounds far-fetched, but there’s a plan for that. In December of 2019, we wrote about it in our semi-serious guide to the apocalypse, which was all in good fun then, and now seems a bit more…relevant.

So where would the government go?

Picture a subterranean city walled off by granite and sealed by blast-proof doors. The place thrums with patters and pings, the white noise of bureaucracy and essential federal functions, but come 5 pm, nobody takes Metro home. Government is literally underground. Uncle Sam actually operates not one but two of these bunker cities: Raven Rock near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and Mount Weather in Berryville, Virginia.

They were built in the ’50s, when bureaucratic prepping efforts began in earnest amid the threat of nuclear war, shelved during the ’90s as our icy relations with Eastern enemies thawed, then rebooted suddenly on 9/11.

Since then, they’ve been expanded mightily for the next time, as preppers say, SHTF. According to Garrett Graff’s Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, Raven Rock, the probable replacement site for the Pentagon, contains 66 buildings. Mount Weather, believed to be for the executive branch, has its own hospital, police and fire departments, and (no joke) a bar equipped with pool tables and foosball.

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.