Saturday, August 1, 2009

Westlin 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


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. 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[at]

Albert LaFrance, mail-list owner, offers photographs and architecural drawings by a real estate promoter of the bunker:

Westlin Bunker Project with numerous photos:

Continental Airlines Bunker


This 1990s aerial shows the bunker was once camouflaged with a pond and encircling pagodas.

Bunker Lower Level


Bunker Upper Level


Bunker Section


Bunker Section with pagoda


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Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.