The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) bunker, which now serves as MEMA headquarters, was commissioned by President John F. Kennedy. Due to the Cold War climate of the early 1960s, President Kennedy planned to have a secure facility built in each state to ensure continuity of state government following a nuclear attack. Being a Massachusetts native, the President had the first-in-the-nation underground blast-proof State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) constructed here.
Originally, the bunker was designed to be the Emergency Operating Center of the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency and did not have many people working there on a daily basis. Subsequently, in addition to housing the SEOC, the building became the day-to-day headquarters of the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency. In 1991, the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency’s name was changed to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
For photos of the MEMA Bunker and the SEOC, see our Facebook photo album: State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) Through the Years.
The area of Framingham where the MEMA bunker is located was part of 115 acres originally purchased by the Commonwealth from the Pratt Family in 1875. At the time, it was used for the annual encampments of the state’s Militia Brigades and thus became known as Muster Field. In 1918, it became the staging area for Massachusetts troops heading to Europe in World War I.
Geographically, the site is located far enough away from Boston to be considered safe in the event of an attack on the state capital, but close enough to be reached quickly in an emergency. Framingham had been considered became relatively accessible from Boston following the opening of the new state “superhighway” - Route 9, in 1931. In 1957, the town of Framingham became even more accessible to Boston with the opening of I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike).
Construction of the Bunker
The MEMA bunker is about one acre in size and was constructed at a cost of $2.5 million. The building is located 30 feet to 40 feet below ground and both entrance ramps were constructed at right angles as an additional protection against radiation.
The building, with outer walls of reinforced concrete varying in thickness from 18 to 24 inches, can withstand a 20-megaton bomb exploding as close as three miles away. The steel-plated blast doors are 82” high, 76” wide and 9” thick, weighing 5,695 lbs. The roof is comprised of 2 feet of high pressure concrete, covered by yards of compacted earth and a black-topped parking area. To withstand ground movements, such as a shock wave, following a nuclear blast or earthquake, key mechanical and electrical equipment is mounted on vibration isolators, which support the equipment near its center of gravity, so if the floor tilts, the equipment remains level. Flexible joints connect the equipment to pipes and ducts that are firmly attached to the structure.
The facility was never intended to be a public fallout shelter, but rather a spot for government officials to be able to carry out the functions of government. It was designed to house and protect 300 key state government officials, including the governor, during a disaster. It was capable of being self-sufficient for 30 days. It had its own heating, ventilating, and lighting plant, a pair of 40-foot deep water wells, food storage, a cafeteria, an all-electric kitchen, dry storage areas, freezers, sleeping facilities, and a morgue. Three 250-kilowatt diesel generators provided triple-redundant auxiliary power.
It was also built to be the Commonwealth’s center of communication, housing the Emergency Broadcast System. All radio and television broadcasting in Massachusetts would originate from the facility 24 hours a day during a national or statewide emergency.
November 1963 Opening
The Headquarters was dedicated on Saturday, Nov. 16, 1963. President Kennedy, who was invited but unable to attend, sent his regrets. Hanging in the headquarters’ lobby is that letter of regret, which was written by his aide, Ken O’Donnell. Ironically, the date of the letter is Nov. 22, 1963, the date of Kennedy’s assassination.
Inscribed photo and letter from JFK regretting that he could not attend the MEMA bunker opening, dated Nov. 22, 1963, the day of JFK's assassination.
On the day of the dedication, Governor Endicott Peabody addressed a crowd of almost 3,000 people and toured his new underground emergency office. To quote briefly from the remarks made by the governor that day:
“To the Pilgrims, Civil Defense meant a blunderbuss, in addition to the stockade; a reliable warning system; a leader to turn to for direction and a pooling of resources for survival. What began in Plymouth has become an American tradition. It was exemplified in Paul Revere and the Minutemen and later in the Westward Movement. The will to survive has characterized America’s growth and greatness. The banding together for protection and assistance in times of peril has made us strong.”
Over the years, the agency has evolved in both name and mission. The Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency became the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and changed its focus to an all-hazards approach to natural, technological & man-made emergencies and disasters.
Since the building opened, technological upgrades have been made to the MEMA bunker to keep it up to date. Most recently, large investments have been made to upgrade both the Communications Center in 2011 and the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in 2012. The 2012 renovation was the first major upgrade to the operations center since it was built. The project included opening up walls on both ends of the room, raising the floor so that wiring could be buried beneath it, taking out a portion of the raised command area, and installing all new communications and display technologies. The operations center is now state-of-the-art and significantly enhances MEMA’s abilities during disasters and emergencies to maintain situational awareness, coordinate state response and recovery efforts including support.
Key Features of the Building
The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), located in the operations room at the MEMA headquarters bunker, serves as the central point of coordination for state-level emergency management and response activities. The SEOC may be activated to coordinate state-level response to an emergency or in response to a large-scale planned event where state resources must be mobilized to ensure health and safety. When activated, the SEOC is staffed by MEMA staff as well as representatives from the Massachusetts Emergency Support Function (ESF) Team which is composed of trained representatives of state, Federal, local, private, and public agencies and organizations.
MEMA’s Communications Center provides 24/7 dispatch services for a large number of state agencies. In addition to dispatching for these agencies, MEMA dispatchers have the ability to communicate with each local emergency operations center via radio, and are responsible for continuously monitoring a variety of federal, state, and local sources of information to maintain and share statewide situational awareness. MEMA’s Communications Center also serves as the Primary State Warning Point which is responsible for activating the Emergency Alerting System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA); activating the sirens within the Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) communities for Pilgrim and Seabrook Nuclear Power Plants; and pushing emergency notifications to the public through Massachusetts Alerts. MEMA dispatchers also provide seismic activity notifications for the New England States Emergency Consortium (NESEC), which includes notification of any seismic activity to all New England states.