This page provides historical information about the FEMA Region 6 Federal Regional Center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.
About the Federal Regional Center in Denton, Texas
It could very well be one of the most interesting and unusual structures that visitors may ever have the opportunity to tour. Although a familiar campus in the city of Denton, Texas, you often hear that the Federal Regional Center (FRC) still holds a lot of mystery for many in the area. The center celebrated its 50th anniversary on Feb. 14, 2014.
The FRC is one of five sites constructed nationwide as locations for underground facilities prompted by the Cold War. It was the first to be built. Today, the Denton facility serves as the headquarters for FEMA Region VI.
The Denton Federal Regional Center was originally designed to provide austere living and working space for 100-500 people. The shelter would be equipped with sufficient oxygen, food and bedding to accommodate staff below ground for 30 days. Selected personnel would come to the FRC from their normal office locations in Dallas or Fort Worth to maintain their agency's functions should their home offices be rendered inoperable by an attack.
You must remember that the FRC was designed in the late 1950s, and built for a mid-1960s purpose, with early to mid-1960s technology. Much of what you will see here is now somewhat obsolete. The original threat of nuclear bombs dropped from airplanes has evaporated and the original purpose of the FRC has changed to address new emergency responses.
The FRC was never needed to be used for its original purpose. Yet, it served with distinction as a significant part of this nation's history and continues to support the region’s emergency management mission.
Cold War History
In the late 1950s during the Eisenhower Administration, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were heavily engaged in the Cold War. Extensive stockpiles of nuclear weapons were created on both sides. Nuclear-armed bombers from both countries were often in the air, with others standing by to take to the air on short notice. Both nations had air defenses ready to shoot down any bombers from the other side.
During this era, officials in Washington D.C. realized they needed to figure out ways to ensure the survival of the United States government in the event of a nuclear war—thus, continuity of operations was born. The initiative was further supported during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s and the near-launch of nuclear weapons by the Russians in 1983.
Following a careful review of the many alternative means of providing government operations, it was determined that the most effective response would be to construct, in locations outside the immediate likely target areas, facilities that could provide protection against nuclear blast and fallout.
These centers were intended to provide protected space for cadres of federal officials who could sustain vital governmental operations during and following a large-scale attack on the United States.
Built on 20 acres at an initial cost of $2.7 million, the Federal Regional Center consists of an above-ground reception area of approximately 4,000 square feet and two below-ground levels each boasting of 25,000 sq. ft. for a combined total of 50,000 sq. ft. underground.
The FRC was designed to withstand the blast effects of a one-megaton nuclear explosion at a distance of one mile and to protect its occupants from the nuclear fallout resulting from such a detonation.
Below ground areas were designed to provide approximately 1,000 times the protection level for radioactive fallout, than outside the FRC.
Denton was selected as the site for this center due to the distance from federal offices located in Dallas and Fort Worth. An attack on those communities, their business, industrial, financial, governmental and population centers would leave Denton relatively unharmed.
A group of Denton community leaders purchased the land on which the center is located and donated it to the U.S. Government. This was a patriotic move that demonstrated the nation’s concerns during the Cold War between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R.
The site selection was strongly supported by then Senate-Majority Leader from Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who visited the site in September 1959. Construction started in 1960 and was opened for business in 1964.
The above ground FRC building, of lightweight construction, was designed to be blown away by a nearby nuclear explosion. It is structurally separate from the below-ground FRC areas except to serve as a reception area and the head of a stairwell and elevator shaft. Also located in the above-ground FRC area is a conference/training room and a supply receiving and storage area.
Probably the most visible manifestation of the significance of the FRC facility is the forest of telecommunications antennas that you see as you pass by or enter the grounds. These wire, mast and dish antennas, and the various telecommunications systems they serve, allow staff to be in contact with FEMA headquarters, other FEMA facilities, other emergency management offices and government facilities throughout the U.S. and even around the world.
The three white cone-shaped objects located on the FRC grounds are NOT missile silos, but covers for hydraulically operated survivable antennas. If the primary antenna systems were lost due to nuclear blast effects, these back-up antennas could be raised, from the below-ground FRC communications center, to maintain minimum essential radio communications capabilities.
At the northwest and southeast comers of the underground FRC are octagonal observation and monitoring towers that could be used to observe outside activity after climbing a somewhat precarious ladder. Although similar in appearance to gun turrets, no weapons are in these towers and none are stored in the FRC. From here, FRC staff could monitor the environmental conditions outside to determine when it was safe to come out. This was necessary since a camera surveillance system was not available at that time. A mini blast door closes the bottom of each tower at ground level to protect the underground FRC.
The FRC originally housed FEMA predecessor agencies, which included the Office of Emergency Planning and Office of Civil Defense. These predecessor agencies had a presence in Denton since 1954, originally located at the original Breckinridge Hall on the campus of Texas Woman’s University.
Though the facility was never used for continuity of government purposes, the federal government actions in creating and maintaining this facility served its purpose for national preparedness.
Some of the features of the FRC are no longer in use, while others remain intact.
Features No Longer in Use:
13-ton blast doors over the center’s staircases are no longer functional. It is composed of lead and steel and would be closed in the case of a potential nuclear threat. It was operated by hydraulic pressure.
Two emergency escape hatches were available in case the ground level building was destroyed and the blast doors were unable to open.
A decontamination room was removed in 2009 during remodeling. When entering into the building following a nuclear incident, a potential for radioactive fallout could occur contaminating anyone entering the building. Each person entering the building would be checked with a radiological monitor and would go through the decontamination process if necessary.
The FRC was equipped with its own power plant, which included three diesel-fueled, hand-starting 516-horsepower engines that drove three 375-kilowatt generators to supply emergency electricity to the building. In addition, two other generators were located above ground to supplement emergency lighting. Over the years, FEMA used the generators to take the building off-line of city-supplied power to supplement high electricity use during hot summers. A 30-day supply of diesel fuel was maintained at the regional office, but the tanks have since been drained and filled with concrete.
No longer in existence, the laundry room would have been used for washing the laundry of officials working or sheltering in place at the facility. Staff would be assigned laundry duty, similar to ships at sea.
The well room houses a well that is 1,250 feet deep with a 750 gallon per minute pump to provide water to the facility. It is no longer used today. The FRC uses water supplied by the city of Denton.
Still Used Today
The Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) is still used today as an emergency operations center for Region VI. This is where FEMA monitors events such as hurricanes, tornadoes or severe flooding and starts the initial response to an event. In the event of a presidential disaster declaration, this would be the hub of coordinated FEMA and federal government response prior to the establishment of a Joint Field Office at or near the site of the disaster.
An environmental control system serves as the air circulation system for the building. It mixes fresh air from the outside with the conditioned air inside the building. The air is completely changed in the building about every 86 minutes. In addition, a filtering system for both nuclear and biological air contaminants is located on the air intake.
Now a scaled down version, the FRC kitchen would have been used to cook up to 1,500 meals a day for 100 - 500 people assigned to the FRC. Food stocks were freeze-dried and would only be used when needed in the event of an emergency. Walk-in storage freezers could also be used as a temporary morgue if someone were to die in the facility.
The center’s radio room remains a protected area. This room is shielded from EMP - electro-magnetic pulse - an intense burst of electromagnetic energy caused by an abrupt, rapid acceleration of charged particles. In the event of a nuclear bomb air burst, an EMP would be created. The room was protected by the walls, floor and ceilings (boxed) through the use of copper plating and copper grounding rods extending down into the ground. EMP would therefore not affect this room, and emergency communications would still be possible.
Ladders leading to observation towers are still intact but protected from use. The observation tower, seen as the octagon-shaped pillars on the northwest and southeast sides of the FRC, would be used for monitoring outdoor radioactivity as well as visual observations of the surrounding area.
Still called the Jade Room, this former dining room and men’s bunking area now serves as a centrally located meeting room.
The center’s elevator is operated by a hydraulic cylinder beneath the elevator car, allowing for the movement of the elevator car between the Upper and Lower Levels. It is covered by (now non-functional) 25-ton blast doors.