- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Congress has new plans to keep working if an attack on Washington makes it impossible for lawmakers to meet at the U.S. Capitol.

The military has built facilities at Fort McNair, a short ride on South Capital Street to the P Street Southwest site where the House and Senate can meet, according to sources familiar with the arrangements.

In addition, Congress has contracted with movie theaters around the nation to host the House and Senate if attacks prevent legislators from convening in Washington, a source familiar with the planning told The Washington Times.

The Boston Marathon bombings have rekindled memories of the al Qaeda terrorist network’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush and other administration officials went deep inside the White House complex or to undisclosed locations to maintain what is called “continuity of government.”

Congress, however, had no place to go. Its large bunker complex at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., closed in 1995.

Built in the Cold War days of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Greenbrier’s bunker had dormitory space for more than 1,000, a dining room, a huge supply of rations and a medical clinic.

There were separate chambers for the House and Senate, and a large room for joint meetings, according to a Brookings Institution report.

At that time, the fear was an all-out nuclear war. Today, the planning includes for not only a nuclear attack but also a coordinated terrorist assault on the nation’s capital.

Work on the Fort McNair facilities began last decade.

Hints that Congress had an alternative site to conduct business surfaced in 2010, when Democrats discussed holding a retreat there. But federal law prevents military bases from hosting political events. The retreat was conducted on the Capitol grounds.

Asked if the fort now hosts an emergency meeting complex for Congress, the command issued the following statement to The Times: “Due to the safety and security of our installations, specifics about facilities are not released, but the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington are committed to safeguarding our nation’s capital and elected members of our government.”

Fort McNair has a dual command role. It houses the Military District of Washington and the Joint Force Headquarters, which is a part of U.S. Northern Command, the military arm responsible for homeland defense.

A spokeswoman for the House sergeant at arms, whose office includes the Office of Emergency Management, declined to comment.