I spent last weekend at the Greenbrier Resort, the location of my annual CEO Roundtable retreat this year. A historic landmark nestled in the Allegheny Mountain foothills near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, it offers horseback riding, skeet shooting and other activities. But the most unusual offering is a tour of the Super Walmart-size bunker that was built underneath it during the Cold War, to house Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.
Code named Project Greek Island, it was completed in 1961 under the guise of adding a convention exhibition hall and additional rooms. It has its own power plant, 25,000 gallons of water storage tanks and purification equipment, and an incinerator for waste disposal that was capable of incinerating bodies, if necessary.
There was space for both the House and Senate to meet, equipped with recording equipment to keep records for posterity. Over 1,000 dormitory beds were reassigned each time a member of Congress was voted in or out of office. A 6,000 sq. ft. clinic stood ready with an operating room, dental clinic and intensive care unit. A dedicated staff, passed off as TV repairmen for the hotel, monitored all the security and survival equipment on a round-the-clock basis.
The security door to the bunker’s West Tunnel entrance is 12 by 10 feet, 18 inches thick, and weighs approximately 25 tons. Every three days between 3-4am, trucks would arrive through the tunnel to deliver supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables, medicine and other items necessary for keeping the facility ready to house Congress, their staff, family members and support personnel at a moment’s notice.
All this went on until May 31, 1992, when The Washington Post published a story exposing the bunker’s existence, and the facility had to be phased out. The facility came close to being used the first year of its existence, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev held a 13-day standoff over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
As I walked through the facility, awed by its size and complexity, I asked myself; Was it all a waste of time and money?
What if the Cuban Missile crisis hadn’t ended peacefully? What if the Soviet Union launched missiles at the United States in response to our “quarantine” of the island? How would we have recovered as a nation? It’s easy to criticize all this preparation and precaution with the benefit of hindsight and history on our side.
It’s like that with your finances too. How do you prepare for a catastrophic health diagnosis like Alzheimer’s? How much should you sacrifice of your life today to prepare for the possibility of a crisis in the future? What is too much preparation?
We get asked about “rules of thumb” when discussing financial questions, but there really aren’t any templates we can apply to your life. It depends on what’s important to you – what you value most. Do you want more certainty about your financial future? Then you will need to give up some things today. Do you want to spend more today to do what you want? Then you will be giving up more financial security as you age.
With (sometimes) difficult questions and discussions, we can help you determine what’s right for you, and what balance you need to strike for yourself between today’s certainty and tomorrow’s unknowns. Think of it as your own emergency plan.