Due to the Cold War climate of the early 1960s, President John Kennedy devised a plan for each state to have a facility 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 in his home state. 

But why Framingham?  Why at this specific location? 

The historical significance, as well as the geographical location, may have contributed to this circumstance. The area where the SEOC is located was part of 115 acres originally purchased by the Commonwealth from the wealthy Pratt Family of Framingham in 1875. At the time, it was utilized for the annual encampments of the State’s Militia Brigades, thus became known as Muster Field. In 1918, it became the staging area for Massachusetts troops preparing to embark to Europe to fight in World War I. Additionally, New England’s first Airmail Flight landed here at Muster Field’s military airport in 1923. So the spot has a history.

Geographically, the SEOC was located far enough away from Boston to be what was considered to be safe, but close enough to be reached in a rather short period of time, due to the recent advances in the Commonwealth’s road system. For decades, Framingham had been considered relatively accessible from the state Capital in Boston with the opening of the new state ‘superhighway’ - Route 9, in 1931.  But the biggest change in commuting time occurred in 1957, when the town was linked to the interstate highway system, I-90, or Massachusetts Turnpike, which opened with 2 exits in Framingham.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Headquarters, which at the time was referred to as the State Civil Defense Headquarters (The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 mandated that each state form a Civil Defense Agency.), is about one acre in size. It was designed to house and protect 300 key state government officials, including the Governor.   The SEOC is located 30-40’ below the ground and both entrance ramps were constructed at varied lengths and at right angles in order to provide a level of protection from radioactive fallout. It was constructed to withstand a 20-megaton bomb exploding as close as three miles from its location, with outer walls of reinforced concrete, varying in thickness from 18 to 24 inches.  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.  The entire structure was built to withstand an equivalent static pressure of 30 lbs per square inch.  Under this type of shock, the entire building is designed to move about ½ foot horizontally and about 1 foot vertically.  To withstand ground movements, such as a shock wave, following a nuclear blast (or an earthquake strike with the magnitude of 6.0 on the Richter Scale), 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.  Copper piping was installed to reduce the risk of shattering.  All plumbing fixtures are stainless steel.

The facility was never intended to be a ‘Public Fallout Shelter’. It was capable of operating self sufficiently for 30 days. It had its own heating, ventilating and lighting plant, two 40 foot deep water wells, food storage, cafeteria, an all-electric kitchen, dry storage areas, freezers, sleeping facilities and a two-bed morgue (since it was determined that if the facility was activated for 30 straight days, at least 2 of the 300 people staffing the SEOC would die of natural causes).  Three 250kw-diesel generators provide triple-redundant auxiliary power.

The new Civil Defense Headquarters was constructed at a cost of $2.5 million, half of which were federal dollars.  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 24-hours a day during a national or statewide emergency.  This ‘station’ was to be staffed by members of the Boston Media. It was truly a state-of-the-art facility.

The Headquarters was dedicated on Saturday, November 16, 1963.  President Kennedy 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 ‘November 22, 1963’, the date of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Photo of John F Kennedy and letter from JFK dated November 22, 1963 regretting that he could not attend the MEMA bunker opening dedication
Inscribed photo and letter from JFK regretting that he could not attend the MEMA bunker opening. Dated 11/22/1963, date of JFK's assassination.

On the day of the dedication, Governor Endicott Peabody, who addressed the crowd of almost 3,000, later toured his new underground emergency office, which was set aside for the Commonwealth’s chief official. Other speakers that day included State Director of Civil Defense Daniel J. Flynn, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Defense Stuart L. Pittman, Regional Director of Civil Defense Alexander A. Morrissette, as well as local Framingham officials and clergy. There were high school bands and the Framingham American Legion presented the colors.

The highlight of the day was reported to be when the two back-up hydraulically operated telescopic antennae, which are stored in 18-foot underground silos, were extended to their full height of 77’. 

To quote briefly from the remarks made by Governor Peabody, on 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.”

There have obviously been many changes to the facility and the agency over the years.  The Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency’s name and mission have evolved.  As the threat of the ‘Cold War’ diminished, the newly named Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency now focused on the natural and technological emergencies and disasters that impacted the Commonwealth.  Unlike its original intent, the facility was not just the site of the SEOC to only be utilized during a crisis, but now served as the fulltime 24/7/365 Headquarters for MEMA.

With the many technological upgrades over the years, MEMA continues to have the state-of-the-art equipment.  Most recently, large investments have been made to upgrade both the SEOC and Communication Center, which is now the 24-hour dispatch center for multiple state agencies.  Post-9/11, with the influx of Homeland Security grants, there have been many positive changes both internal and external to ensure the safety of MEMA personnel.  MEMA also has a Mobile EOC, which replicates the technology of the SEOC.  The MEOC is made available to local Public Safety officials throughout the Commonwealth for local emergencies or planned events.

The principles stated by Governor Peabody a half century ago continue to hold true today, more than ever. Civil Defense, now Emergency Management, is more than the facilities and the equipment, but people. Men and women, who, for well over a half-century, have dedicated themselves to the safety and well-being of their fellow citizens, regardless of the danger, emergency or disaster.


Check out our Facebook photo album for photos of the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) Through the Years