Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MEP Engineer Appreciation Field Trip

A visit to the famous Greenbrier Resort "bunker" (aka "Project Greek Island") in White Sulpur Springs, West Virginia, truly brings to the forefront the importance of MEP systems that we so often take for granted in our everyday life -- that is, until they don't work. 

Back in the late 50's, President Eisenhower held meetings at the Greenbrier with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, while also secretly meeting with the head of the C&O Railway Co., which owned the resort at the time. It was an era of great concern about nuclear proliferation and the "Cold War" with the Soviet Union. After all, the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima to close out WWII, and the Russians had since developed their own nuclear arsenal. Many Americans responded then (and even now) by assembling household supplies and building makeshift shelters. Likewise, the U.S. government began the secret search for a fallout shelter for Congress to evacuate to and continue operations in cases of threats of nuclear destruction (as almost came to pass with the early 60's Cuban missile crisis).  Greenbrier Resort was quickly chosen as the ideal spot,  being near D.C., close to the interstate, an airstrip and rail depot, yet isolated  in terms of population and geography, coupled with the fact it had once served as a rehab facility/hospital for the war injured. The bunker was constructed beneath and in conjunction with a new hotel wing opened in 1961 with payments going through the Railroad Company so as not to arouse suspicion. Ingeniously, parts of the finished bunker facility were also used as exhibit halls and meeting rooms for conventions--hidden in plain sight so to speak. And the engineers and other personnel maintaining the bunker doubled as resort employees serving as valets, maintenance workers and the like. Thirty years later, on May 31, 1992,  the bunker was exposed in the Washington Post with its value questioned since the Cold War had ended. The very next day the government shut it down, but people continued to show an interest, much to the surprise of locals, and tours started in 1995.

While touring the bunker, a person cannot help but gain an appreciation for those mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems critical for survival, a fact the tour guides highlight throughout. Fresh air intake systems, emergency back-up power, chillers, water filtration systems and the like are on clear display and their importance vividly explained. It is also worth mentioning that the bunker now serves as a mega modern-day data center after updates for wiring and conditioning.

So, if you have a budding engineer in your family or you yourself are an engineer with a spouse or significant other or friend whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of your latest project, this is a must-see.  We also highly recommend the excursion to all you architects, developers, project and property managers out there or even those parents with aspiring college students in tow touring nearby universities such as Virginia Tech. What better way to combine interesting history with practical knowledge in a romantic, bucolic setting where you can also golf, hike, bowl, etc. (and no, this is not a paid advertisement--just a suggestion by engineers seeking appreciation and recognition).


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