Inside NORAD

Thanks to both the awesome Jeff Carlson and the Slush God, I found myself part of a group of SF writers touring NORAD today. NORAD, of course, is North American Aerospace Defense Command, and boy was it a trip. Some of the day’s recollections:

The front-door: That holy shit moment when (having passed through checkpoints and gotten on a military bus) we saw THE tunnel . . . the one I’ve seen so many times in movies and never once for real, leading into the depths of Cheyenne Mountain. . .

The blast-doors: At the bottom of the tunnel are the blast-doors. There are two, turned perpendicular so as to allow a blast to sideswipe them; behind them are caves within which are  . . .

Rooms on springs:  If your bunker doesn’t have springs, then you don’t have a bunker.  The most secure area of NORAD is a series of rooms/shells mounted on springs in order to ride out shock-waves.

Without power, they’re just caves:  The bulk of NORAD is infrastructure built to ensure that the complex continues to run even if everything’s anarchy outside and zombies are combing the countryside looking for meat.  And yet, given the base’s current resources, it would apparently need resupply within a month.  A fellow member of the tour suggested that this was disinformation; I would be inclined to think that it’s the honest truth, particularly given that . . . .

Without the Soviets, it’s all just window-dressing:    Because as impressive as the place is, it belongs to a different era.  The main hemisphere-scanning functions are now carried out by nearby Peterson Air Base, and NORAD has been relegated to redundancy and standby.  Officially the Pentagon has done this because the U.S. is no longer threatened by massive nuclear attack; unofficially one might also note that the precision targeting of the latest nuclear weapons would turn the mountain into a smoking crater.  Our tour’s directors were pretty frank with us about NORAD’s current standby situation, but were legitimately proud of the base’s history.  The image that will remain with me for a long time were the sealed-up doorways that were far smaller than a blast-door but far larger than a normal door.  Decades ago, mainframe computers were hauled through those openings and commissioned as the core of yesteryear’s NORAD.  Now those machines have vanished, along with the enemy they once stood watch for.

A duck that will never quack:  Yeah, you read that right.  Look, here’s the thing:  in the depths of NORAD is a reservoir, contained behind a small dam and leading into underwater caves.  But floating on the water is what looks for all the world like a duck.  Or rather, a fake duck/hunter’s decoy:  one that NORAD maintenance divers placed on the surface to allow them to tell which way is up and thereby escape disorientation.  They may have succeeded, but any newcomer to the world beneath the mountain won’t.

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13 Responses to “Inside NORAD”

  1. Captain Mac Says:

    Did you get to play Thermonuclear War with J.O.S.H.U.A?

  2. meesh Says:

    that sounds like a super cool tour……my favorite tid bit….the duck.

    were you allowed to take pictures?

    i got in trouble on the navy base in norfolk for taking pictures of the submarines. it was near the start of the war when i was there so maybe everyone was extra sensitive.

    so cool!!!

  3. David Williams Says:

    @ CM: I wish. Sigh.

    @ Meesh: no pix. but you can check some out here:

    http://io9.com/5034540/deep-inside-norad-with-only-a-felt+tip-pen-and-twenty-science-fiction-writers

  4. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » WorldCon Highlights Says:

    [...] David J. Williams Autumn Rain 2110 « Inside NORAD [...]

  5. Joel Sparks Says:

    The original “duck and cover”, eh?

    Looking forward to a DC reading event!

    — Joel

  6. Secular Jeff Says:

    I also attended the WorldCon in Denver. I work in Cheyenne Mountain. I have worked there since 1985 as an Air Force officer and now as a civilian employee (civil service) of the Air Force. One thing that they may not have told you or you may not have understood them correctly is that Cheyenne Mountain is still fully operational.

    All of the Missile Warning and Air Defense mission computers are still inside the Mountain. All of the high speed and survivable data circuits from all of Air Force Space Command’s Missile Warning Radars and the space based infra-red (missile launch detection) satellite systems still come into Cheyenne Mountain like they have for decades.

    All of the data circuits from NORAD’s Air Defense Regions still come into the Mountain like they have for decades.

    All of the data circuits from all of Air Force Space Command’s Space Surveillance Network still come into the Mountain just like they have for decades.

    The mission computers still process all of the data and output the appropriate data to NORAD and US Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) forward users.

    The only thing that has changed is that earlier this year, the Commander of NORAD and Northern Command (NORTHCOM) moved his NORAD Command Center and Air Defense Center crew personnel to a new command center in the basement of the NORAD/NORTHCOM Headquarters building on Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs. They installed workstations that are connected to the mission computers in Cheyenne Mountain. STRATCOM’s Missile Warning Center is still in the Mountain.

    Cheyenne Mountain is still America’s Underground Fortress. Yes, a direct hit by a nuke will make a big crater. The bad guys have been able to do that for years. But when the mountain does a “button-up” (extra personnel and close the blast doors) it’s chem/Bio/Rad (CBR) filters truly turns this place into a Fortress.

    BTW the mountain’s job of alerting our National Command Authorities of a missile attack will have been accomplished long before the missiles from the bad guys get here.

    I just wanted to make sure you were aware that the mountain is not just window-dressing.

    BTW I have never seen the Stargate sign anywhere in Cheyenne Mountain.

    Secular Jeff

  7. David Williams Says:

    @Secular Jeff: great post, and thanks for all the detail. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the base still isn’t seeing active use. Though in reading your comment, the only thing I still don’t get is why we were told during the tour that NORAD only has supplies for 30 days. I’m assuming that the place could stock up for far more than that given enough warning, but the whole point of a place like that is that there might not BE any warning . . .

    In any event, thanks for your long years of service at NORAD. I can only imagine the stories you could tell about what it was like to be in the mountain at the height of the cold war.

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  9. alyssa Says:

    dang. i wish they still did tours. especially after seeing the movie Wargames, starring matthew broderck.

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