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Continental Airlines Finds a Safe Haven in a Texas Bunker

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  • james.e.innes.cgs80@alumni.upenn.edu
    Continental Airlines Finds a Safe Haven In a Texas Bunker Cold War Relic Gets New Use By Companies Worried About the Next Big Storm By MELANIE TROTTMAN October
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 2, 2006
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      Continental Airlines
      Finds a Safe Haven
      In a Texas Bunker
      Cold War Relic Gets New Use
      By Companies Worried
      About the Next Big Storm
      By MELANIE TROTTMAN
      October 2, 2006; Page A1

      MONTGOMERY, Texas -- The 40,000-square-foot, two-story bunker here was
      the creation of Ling-Chieh "Louis" Kung, the nephew of Taiwan's
      influential Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The fortune he earned during the
      booming 1970s from his now-defunct Houston oil company, Westland Oil
      Development Corp., allowed him to indulge his fears that Red China or
      the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack on the U.S.

      Mr. Kung, who died in 1996 at about the age of 75, bought hundreds of
      acres of wooded cow pasture on the edge of this small town and
      secretly built an underground fortress to house at least 700 people,
      including his employees and their families, for a two-month emergency.

      Now, Continental Airlines, for reasons of its own, has taken over part
      of the extravagant Cold War folly, with plans to use it as a
      crisis-operations center.

      The destruction and panic wrought along the Gulf Coast by Hurricanes
      Katrina and Rita last year prompted many companies to seek new places
      to house emergency operations. Continental had an emergency-operations
      center near Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and it has
      offices downtown. But concerned about gridlock, floods and possible
      electrical outages in a hurricane, the company decided it needed a
      safer backup facility to operate its world-wide flights if it should
      ever have to evacuate its Houston headquarters. The airline, along
      with more than 20 other companies, found its solution buried deep
      inside a hill in this small community northwest of Houston.


      In May, John Stelly, Continental's managing director of technology,
      was given 45 days to convert the rented shelter space for emergency
      offices and data storage. After descending more than 50 feet in an
      elevator to survey the project, he found himself in a subterranean
      ghost town of shadowy halls, mysterious rooms and dust-covered
      equipment.

      The executive says he stared in wonder at a room filled with 115
      triple-decker bunks, each with an individual reading light. Later, as
      he went to work there, he sometimes imagined what it would be like to
      be trapped in this place for months with hundreds of other people. "It
      gives you a weird, eerie feeling," he said.

      The world was awash in old fallout shelters after the Cold War ended
      in 1989. Over the years, many public and private bunkers in the U.S.
      and Europe have been converted to wine cellars, nightclubs, storage
      facilities and even mushroom farms. A bunker secretly built in White
      Sulphur Springs, W. Va., to house Congress is now rented out to the
      public for parties and showcased in guided tours. Many other old
      shelters have been marketed as secure data centers or emergency
      headquarters for companies.

      Adam Laurie, who renovates and leases ex-military bomb shelters in the
      United Kingdom, toured Mr. Kung's Texas bunker three years ago. Though
      he was impressed with the quality of construction, "the degree of
      paranoia of the person who built it was extreme," he said.


      A tunnel leading into the bunker.
      The bunker was as self-contained as a small city, with its own power
      and medical facilities, morgue, jail cells, recreation rooms and water
      tanks. Two pagoda-style buildings outfitted with gun ports for machine
      guns protected stairwell entrances to tunnels leading into the
      shelter. In case of an attack, the tunnels were designed to collapse,
      sealing off the bunker from the outside world. Two hundred feet away,
      an above-ground, four-story office-building with bulletproof windows
      housed Mr. Kung's oil-company headquarters and family residence.

      From the start the project, completed in 1982, was a source of
      intrigue and gossip for the town of Montgomery. Residents watched as a
      mile-long procession of cement trucks ferried cargo to what they knew
      only as a giant hole in the ground. Rumors swirled for years of a
      secret subterranean shopping mall. "Everybody's heard about it.
      Everybody's curious about it. Not everybody's seen it," said Jennifer
      Stratton, a waitress at Phil's Roadhouse & Grill down the road from
      the bunker.

      Mr. Kung lost title to the property after the 1980s oil bust. The
      bunker sat frozen in time until investors bought it and in 2003 hired
      Montgomery-based Westlin Corp. to take charge of converting it into a
      rental site for data storage.

      A quick survey of the property made it clear this would be no ordinary
      renovation. Using a flashlight to light his way, Westlin President
      David Herr says he made his way past wasp nests and thick cobwebs to
      the underground stairwell, then through two reinforced steel blast
      doors that slammed shut behind him.


      A cutaway of the complex built by Ling-Chieh 'Louis' Kung.
      In the bunker's control room, the panel where flashing lights would
      signal a nuclear attack was still mounted on a wall with the key in
      the slot for locking down the facility. Geiger counters for measuring
      radioactivity remained on water and ventilation systems.

      Mr. Herr quickly saw that some of the rooms would be easier to convert
      than others. Decontamination showers have been left alone since they
      might still prove useful in a chemical spill or other emergency.

      Westlin installed a small elevator so tenants wouldn't have to take
      the stairs, and secured it with biometric access that requires
      handprints to verify identities. The company is converting 13 small
      conjugal rooms, originally intended to give couples privacy, but Mr.
      Herr and his staff are still puzzling over what to do with some of the
      space. For example, four steel-encased jail cells remain untouched
      with their original bed frames and doors because they are too small to
      bother updating.

      Interest was only lukewarm when the bunker opened for leasing in early
      2005. That changed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with the number
      of bunker tenants doubling to 50, including Continental, the largest
      occupant. Other tenants include Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and medical
      companies from Houston and Louisiana.

      Continental spent several million dollars -- it won't say exactly how
      much -- to customize its bunkhouse space and additional space leased
      in the nearby office building. Once the lease contract was signed, Mr.
      Stelly had to rush to complete the conversion of the company's
      2,000-square-foot bunker space before this year's hurricane season.
      Workers had to tear down one wall, a job that usually takes a couple
      of hours. In this case, it took two days' labor with a sledgehammer to
      break up the two-foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete.

      When power and air-conditioning units proved too big to get down the
      elevator, workers had to dig down through the earth to reach the
      corrugated-steel tunnels and peel back the top panels so the equipment
      could be lowered in by crane.

      Continental's executives have decided they will activate the bunker in
      a Category 3 storm, or whenever workers must evacuate the downtown
      Houston control center. The airline's space leased in the above-ground
      office building is for 275 emergency staff. Only a few workers will be
      needed in the bunker.

      Tomorrow, Continental plans to operate a work shift from the site and
      hold an open house and barbeque so employees can bring their families
      to see the bunker. If history is any indicator, not everyone will be
      interested in the tour. Mr. Stelly said some Continental employees who
      have already been to the facility have preferred to wait up top rather
      than descend into the depths of the bunker.

      "It can give you that claustrophobic feeling," he said.

      Write to Melanie Trottman at melanie.trottman@...1
    • Albert LaFrance
      Jim, Thanks for posting that! The article reminded me that I d saved the images, including floor plans, from the web site of the real-estate firm which was
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 2, 2006
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        Jim,

        Thanks for posting that!

        The article reminded me that I'd saved the images, including floor plans, from the web site of the
        real-estate firm which was marketing the property, back in 2003 I think. I finally found them in my
        pile of backup CDs, and have uploaded them (no HTML yet, just JPG and PDF files) to:
        http://coldwar-c4i.net/WestlinBldg/ .

        Albert

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: <james.e.innes.cgs80@...>
        To: <coldwarcomms@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Monday, October 02, 2006 8:11 AM
        Subject: [coldwarcomms] Continental Airlines Finds a Safe Haven in a Texas Bunker


        Continental Airlines
        Finds a Safe Haven
        In a Texas Bunker
        Cold War Relic Gets New Use
        By Companies Worried
        About the Next Big Storm
        By MELANIE TROTTMAN
        October 2, 2006; Page A1

        MONTGOMERY, Texas -- The 40,000-square-foot, two-story bunker here was
        the creation of Ling-Chieh "Louis" Kung, the nephew of Taiwan's
        influential Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The fortune he earned during the
        booming 1970s from his now-defunct Houston oil company, Westland Oil
        Development Corp., allowed him to indulge his fears that Red China or
        the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack on the U.S.

        Mr. Kung, who died in 1996 at about the age of 75, bought hundreds of
        acres of wooded cow pasture on the edge of this small town and
        secretly built an underground fortress to house at least 700 people,
        including his employees and their families, for a two-month emergency.

        Now, Continental Airlines, for reasons of its own, has taken over part
        of the extravagant Cold War folly, with plans to use it as a
        crisis-operations center.

        The destruction and panic wrought along the Gulf Coast by Hurricanes
        Katrina and Rita last year prompted many companies to seek new places
        to house emergency operations. Continental had an emergency-operations
        center near Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and it has
        offices downtown. But concerned about gridlock, floods and possible
        electrical outages in a hurricane, the company decided it needed a
        safer backup facility to operate its world-wide flights if it should
        ever have to evacuate its Houston headquarters. The airline, along
        with more than 20 other companies, found its solution buried deep
        inside a hill in this small community northwest of Houston.


        In May, John Stelly, Continental's managing director of technology,
        was given 45 days to convert the rented shelter space for emergency
        offices and data storage. After descending more than 50 feet in an
        elevator to survey the project, he found himself in a subterranean
        ghost town of shadowy halls, mysterious rooms and dust-covered
        equipment.

        The executive says he stared in wonder at a room filled with 115
        triple-decker bunks, each with an individual reading light. Later, as
        he went to work there, he sometimes imagined what it would be like to
        be trapped in this place for months with hundreds of other people. "It
        gives you a weird, eerie feeling," he said.

        The world was awash in old fallout shelters after the Cold War ended
        in 1989. Over the years, many public and private bunkers in the U.S.
        and Europe have been converted to wine cellars, nightclubs, storage
        facilities and even mushroom farms. A bunker secretly built in White
        Sulphur Springs, W. Va., to house Congress is now rented out to the
        public for parties and showcased in guided tours. Many other old
        shelters have been marketed as secure data centers or emergency
        headquarters for companies.

        Adam Laurie, who renovates and leases ex-military bomb shelters in the
        United Kingdom, toured Mr. Kung's Texas bunker three years ago. Though
        he was impressed with the quality of construction, "the degree of
        paranoia of the person who built it was extreme," he said.


        A tunnel leading into the bunker.
        The bunker was as self-contained as a small city, with its own power
        and medical facilities, morgue, jail cells, recreation rooms and water
        tanks. Two pagoda-style buildings outfitted with gun ports for machine
        guns protected stairwell entrances to tunnels leading into the
        shelter. In case of an attack, the tunnels were designed to collapse,
        sealing off the bunker from the outside world. Two hundred feet away,
        an above-ground, four-story office-building with bulletproof windows
        housed Mr. Kung's oil-company headquarters and family residence.

        From the start the project, completed in 1982, was a source of
        intrigue and gossip for the town of Montgomery. Residents watched as a
        mile-long procession of cement trucks ferried cargo to what they knew
        only as a giant hole in the ground. Rumors swirled for years of a
        secret subterranean shopping mall. "Everybody's heard about it.
        Everybody's curious about it. Not everybody's seen it," said Jennifer
        Stratton, a waitress at Phil's Roadhouse & Grill down the road from
        the bunker.

        Mr. Kung lost title to the property after the 1980s oil bust. The
        bunker sat frozen in time until investors bought it and in 2003 hired
        Montgomery-based Westlin Corp. to take charge of converting it into a
        rental site for data storage.

        A quick survey of the property made it clear this would be no ordinary
        renovation. Using a flashlight to light his way, Westlin President
        David Herr says he made his way past wasp nests and thick cobwebs to
        the underground stairwell, then through two reinforced steel blast
        doors that slammed shut behind him.


        A cutaway of the complex built by Ling-Chieh 'Louis' Kung.
        In the bunker's control room, the panel where flashing lights would
        signal a nuclear attack was still mounted on a wall with the key in
        the slot for locking down the facility. Geiger counters for measuring
        radioactivity remained on water and ventilation systems.

        Mr. Herr quickly saw that some of the rooms would be easier to convert
        than others. Decontamination showers have been left alone since they
        might still prove useful in a chemical spill or other emergency.

        Westlin installed a small elevator so tenants wouldn't have to take
        the stairs, and secured it with biometric access that requires
        handprints to verify identities. The company is converting 13 small
        conjugal rooms, originally intended to give couples privacy, but Mr.
        Herr and his staff are still puzzling over what to do with some of the
        space. For example, four steel-encased jail cells remain untouched
        with their original bed frames and doors because they are too small to
        bother updating.

        Interest was only lukewarm when the bunker opened for leasing in early
        2005. That changed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with the number
        of bunker tenants doubling to 50, including Continental, the largest
        occupant. Other tenants include Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and medical
        companies from Houston and Louisiana.

        Continental spent several million dollars -- it won't say exactly how
        much -- to customize its bunkhouse space and additional space leased
        in the nearby office building. Once the lease contract was signed, Mr.
        Stelly had to rush to complete the conversion of the company's
        2,000-square-foot bunker space before this year's hurricane season.
        Workers had to tear down one wall, a job that usually takes a couple
        of hours. In this case, it took two days' labor with a sledgehammer to
        break up the two-foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete.

        When power and air-conditioning units proved too big to get down the
        elevator, workers had to dig down through the earth to reach the
        corrugated-steel tunnels and peel back the top panels so the equipment
        could be lowered in by crane.

        Continental's executives have decided they will activate the bunker in
        a Category 3 storm, or whenever workers must evacuate the downtown
        Houston control center. The airline's space leased in the above-ground
        office building is for 275 emergency staff. Only a few workers will be
        needed in the bunker.

        Tomorrow, Continental plans to operate a work shift from the site and
        hold an open house and barbeque so employees can bring their families
        to see the bunker. If history is any indicator, not everyone will be
        interested in the tour. Mr. Stelly said some Continental employees who
        have already been to the facility have preferred to wait up top rather
        than descend into the depths of the bunker.

        "It can give you that claustrophobic feeling," he said.

        Write to Melanie Trottman at melanie.trottman@...1
      • Albert J. LaFrance, Jr.
        One of my favorite features is the bunker entrance through the pagoda - it gives a James Bond atmosphere to the place. Albert ... plans, from the web site of
        Message 3 of 3 , Oct 2, 2006
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          One of my favorite features is the bunker entrance through the
          pagoda - it gives a "James Bond" atmosphere to the place.

          Albert

          --- In coldwarcomms@yahoogroups.com, "Albert LaFrance" <lafrance@...>
          wrote:
          >
          > Jim,
          >
          > Thanks for posting that!
          >
          > The article reminded me that I'd saved the images, including floor
          plans, from the web site of the
          > real-estate firm which was marketing the property, back in 2003 I
          think. I finally found them in my
          > pile of backup CDs, and have uploaded them (no HTML yet, just JPG
          and PDF files) to:
          > http://coldwar-c4i.net/WestlinBldg/ .
          >
          > Albert
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