The Ellisville and Windermere, Florida, Underground AT&T sites.


ClickHERE for 1.3 Meg .wav file of Jly 13th AF-1 comm thru Ellisville, FL

NOTE: Changes made 3-17-99: Added tour narrative and several pictures of 'underground Ellisville," plus .wav clip of transmission from site.

My interest in the hardened communication sites was sparked by Mark Foster’s excellent "L-4" web site.

The Ellisville facility is located in a rural area of North Central Florida, a few miles off I-75, about 35 miles north of Gainesville, FL.

The Windermere facility is located between Orlando and DisneyWorld / Universal Studios. When built, it was in "the boonies," with little surrounding. Now, upscale housing developments abut the site.

Both sites are surrounded by two fences, an outer perimeter and an inner, taller chain-link security fence.

Ellisville identifies with a "friendly" sign , while the Windermere sign only says "AT&T."

The outer perimeter fence gate at Ellisville has been open every time I have driven by the site. Ellisville does explain what kind of trouble you can get into with a suggestion to behave oneself.

Windermere, on the other hand, has a nasty "No Trespassing" sign on the gate.

Ellisville has the classic AT&T microwave tower. The top of the tower sprouts several antenna.

The antenna on the right is an 8-bay "batwing" UHF, with the top 4 elements oriented N/S and the bottom 4 oriented E/W. The antenna is center fed.

What looks like a 3-bay circular antenna, topped with a hazard warning light, is *not* an antenna. It is actually a 'safety ring' installation to protect persons when changing the hazard lamp.

The antenna on the left appears to be similar in appearance to the individual antennas in a "Combat Ciders" array.

The property contains another set of antennas (no picture available yet) that are mounted on short poles with *massive* guy wires. The antennas are flat-panel units, and are similar to other "attack survivable" UHF antennas shown at Harold Peach's web page.

Windermere has a much smaller tower, and has no antenna above the horns.

Except for the microwave towers, both sites appear the same from the surface. Windermere does have more activity, which can be seen from the vehicles and equipment on the site, including a mobile generator.

Both sites have large HARV heat exchangers, and fresh air intake housings.

Both sites also have nuclear detonation detectors. A site is equipped with three above-ground detectors, spaced at the vertices of an equilateral triangle.

These detectors were intended to sense a nuclear detonation (Electromagnetic Pulse? / air overpressure? / radiation?), seal the facility with biological, germ, and radiation filters in the air intake, and (probably) report the detonation over hardened facilities to the government.

Driving into the Ellisville outer compound (Windermere says "No Trespassing"), one comes to the inner security fence with an electrically operated gate.

A log-periodic TV antenna has a television camera atop the mast, looking at the gate. There’s a small black box near the gate that says "Proximity Detector." There’s also a yellow box with a telephone inside. Pick up the phone, dial the extension on the box, and "AT&T, Ellisville" answers.

After much calling of many sources, I finally was able to tour the underground at Ellisville.

NOTE: Photos will be added to the following narrative as time allows

December 10th, 1998, was an interesting day.

I received a two-hour tour of the underground AT&T facility at Ellisville, FL.

Ellisville was constructed in 1966 as a "partially hardened" site, designed to withstand nuclear explosions in the Jacksonville, FL, area.

At the time of construction, the site was rated to withstand an "overpressure of 100 pounds per square inch," according to an AT&T employee that has worked at the site since the late 60's. "Although today, we are probably down to 50 pounds or so," he said.

Modern targeting technology has rendered the "partial hardening" obsolete, he said. "'He' can drop a bomb right down our air vent shaft if 'he' wanted to now."

3-foot thick concrete walls extend about 50 feet from the surface, with two main equipment floors. Earth is piled up on the surface, so the bottom of the facility is only about 40 feet below the surrounding area.

A small spring was discovered during excavation. AT&T negotiated with a farmer to allow AT&T to "dump" the spring water into a farm pond, and built a 2-mile long 24" culvert to divert the water. The farmer's pond is still being fed from the spring.

Today, the facility is a large switching point for AT&T long-distance service, both voice and data. Only one rack of "cold-war" vintage hangs from the ceiling on springs. An entire floor was gutted and raised "computer room" flooring installed - a technique not allowed in the 60's and 70's.

The microwave horns on the tower have been abandoned in place. All traffic (well, all traffic that he would comment on) flows over fiber cables on 4 paths - Jacksonville to the east, Orlando to the south, Live Oak to the west, and Waycross to the north).

There's an antenna on the top of the tower that looks like a single Combat Ciders antenna. When asked about that, he said "I can neither confirm nor deny any such system, equipment, or activity of that nature at this site."

Later investigation by another investigator and myself verified Ellisville is still functioning as a CC site.

I was allowed to photograph in many areas of the facility, although the one remaining vintage rack and equipment was in an area that corporate AT&T policy would not allow. :-(

Read on for details about the decontamination shower, the "fallout lock," nuclear blast detectors that never worked, and visiting a humongous room lined with air filters along one wall.

Ever used a toilet set on springs? Ellisville has two of them (including "flex" plumbing to and from the appliance). One sits and contemplates just what things would have been like if the ultimate had happened.

This is just an illustration of how seriously any "bounce" from a nuclear detonation was taken. All of the original equipment racks and any control equipment installed along the walls had shock springs.

The generator room is a good example. Two 75 kw generators sit at the ready. The original units are still in service today (I was not allowed to photograph the generators, since they are considered part of the present operational facility). The control panels are not attached to the wall, but have springs at the bottom and the top.

BTW, this whole place is *spotless.* One expects active areas (containing an AT&T 5ESS toll switch and rows of digital switching equipment - for T-1 and higher concentrations of data - and hundreds of echo canceller units) to be clean and orderly. And, those areas are, without a scrap of paper to be seen. Even the employee desks bear no resemblence to *my* office desk - no paper stacks piled high and overflowing (I know there's a desk there somewhere under all the paper - at least there was one day).

The areas not currently used, and even the back stairwell, are all clean and neat. No "backroom" full of junk, boxes, or stuff.

Entry to the facility is through a conventional door set in a non-descript white building with a AT&T "deathstar" logo. One door in a small vestibule opens into the "dumbwaiter" room. All equipment moving in or out passes through a rollup steel door and into a large metal basket attached to an overhead crane. The dumbwaiter/elevator moves from surface level to either of the underground operational levels, stopping next to access doors into the protected part of the facility.

A second door in the vestibule opens into a stairwell for human access (no elevator). Down a couple flights, and you are standing at an opened, 18"-thick blast door. Step thru the portal and you are in a small chamber, with another blast door set in a wall. This one is closed. It has a long lever, running from lower right to the left side at waist level.

"When originally designed, only one door could be opened at a time. This is the 'Fallout Lock.'"

Two hands are used to move the lever and the door swings open when you pull. A breeze can be felt, flowing outward. "We still maintain some positive pressure within the facility. Once upon a time, the pressure maintaind was high enough to make it difficult to close the door, once we disabled the interlock feature. Oh, by the way, your pager won't work while inside the area. We are sheathed in copper for dealing with the Electromagnetic Pulse."

In 1966, the only way known to deal with the EMP was to shield, shield, and shield. Now-a-days, "hardening" techniques can be applied directly to the electronic components, with less reliance on total environmental shielding.

But, the gentleman was right - the pager fell silent for the duration of my being underground.

There is another exit from the fallout lock. It leads through a shower area for decontamination of personnel entering the facility. The shower heads still hang in position. I'm told that new employees at the facility used to be sent through the shower as sort of an initiation the first time they reported for duty (OK, so humor wasn't their long suit).

A short hallway leads past the restroom (unisex) and into the large first level, being used by AT&T for modern switching equipment.

We go down another set of stairs, around a corner, and past three cooling towers for the original air-conditioning. These are no longer used. Units on the surface have the freon pumped up to them and returned.

There's a door beyond the heat exchangers. The wall next to the door has what looks like long metal rods sticking out from the wall. Draped over each rod is a yellowish/orange-looking material, with considerable smudges on each panel.

Passing through the door, I'm in a large room, some 20X20X20 feet. One wall has a series of louvers and grates, denying easy human access to 3 or 4 5 ft diameter corrigated metal pipes. These are the fresh air intakes from the surface. The intakes used to be able to be sealed to prevent contaminated air from entering the facility, but this capability has been removed. The opposite wall is covered with greenish panels. I realize I'm standing in a large air plenum.

"Large particulate matter gets caught in these green filers. Smaller stuff gets trapped in the filters on the other side of the wall."

As we walk back to the 5ESS, I ask about the nuclear blast detectors up on the surface and what mechanism was used for detection - EMP, Overpressure, or the flash.

He doesn't know, but said the system never really went into operation. "Just about the time we finished installing, the system was declared operational and immediatly declared obsolete. I think it was made operational only so the contract could be closed. We never used them."

So much for my vision of a blast sealing the complex, then flashing the news to the military that "Jacksonville doesn't seem to be there anymore."

I asked about occupancy factor. He said they had enough supplies for a 150 or so for almost a month. "That would have been a large staff."

"Well, it was intended that the employees bring their families along. Otherwise, we'd not have had anyone willing to work."

As I left the building, I noticed a white pedestal sitting near the building. Atop the 5-foot circular pedestal was a metallic dome, perhaps 18" in diameter.

"What's that?"

"Oh, that's a nuclear bomb blast detector, too. We hardly notice them anymore, unless we back our cars into the support."

Returning to my house, I reflected on the amount of money we must have spent to build, equip, and staff these various facilities!

 

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