Amid violent protests over the death of George Floyd across US cities, President Donald Trump spent nearly an hour in an underground bunker at the White House Friday night, when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the mansion, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The bunker, also known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), has been used on rare occasions to secure US Presidents in times of peril. The US Secret Service, a federal agency tasked with safeguarding the country’s top leaders, follows protocols set to protect the President when the White House building is under threat.
The Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)
The PEOC, which is the primary bunker of the 132-room White House, was built during World War II for protecting then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A 2008 book review in NPR, however, attributes its origin to the Cold War era during the terms of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As per a Town & Country magazine report, the publicly acknowledged bunker is believed to be located underneath or adjacent to White House’s East Wing, and consists of offices and a conference room. The bunker is staffed by the White House Military Office (WHMO), which also looks after other key areas such as Camp David, the Presidential Airlift Group, and the White House Medical Unit.
The PEOC was most notably used during the September 11, 2001 attacks, after former Vice-President Dick Cheney was brought here for his safety. President George W. Bush, who was in Florida when the attacks occurred, was rushed to the PEOC later that night after a false alarm of another plane attack, The New York Times had reported.
President Bush also used the PEOC to meet with senior administration officials after the terror attack. First Lady Laura Bush was also escorted to the bunker, and described it in her 2010 book ‘Spoken From the Heart’ as a “command center during emergencies, with televisions, phones, and communications facilities”.
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After the 9/11 attacks, the PEOC was upgraded to withstand the force of a plane crashing into the White House, but was probably never used until Trump checked in on Friday, the NYT report said.
Other hideout chambers under the White House
The White House, which has a number of offices and even a bowling alley below the surface level, is equipped with multiple measures to safeguard the president.
The mansion is reported to have a five-storeyed underground chamber that is much larger than the PEOC. This facility was built under the North Lawn after the September 11 attacks, after national security experts recommended stronger measures to protect the president than the existing ones, an expert told The Washington Post. The new structure, which doubles as a command centre and living quarters, was designed to protect the First Family and White House staff from biological or radiological attacks, the report said. It also has a self-contained air supply and is stocked with food that would last for months.
Apart from bunkers, the White House also has tunnels underneath, two of which are known to leave the premises entirely, the Post said. One of these leads to the headquarters of the US Treasury Department, and the other to H street, locations proximate to the White House building in Washington, DC.
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