Pentagon Regular Briefing

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, November 30, 2000 - 1:52 p.m. EST

Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

(Also participating was Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James F. Amos, deputy
assistant commandant for Marine Corps Aviation)

Q: Can you just quickly run down what happened today at the Missile
Alert facility in Minot, North Dakota, where, I guess, they had a
fire, and address whether or not any - at any time there was a threat
to the nuclear missiles and a loss of control of them?

Bacon: In a television age, this picture will not - hey, can we show
this on the screen?

Staff: Sure.

Bacon: Let's go for it. We've got this multi-thousand dollar setup
here, let's see if we can make it pay.

Q: How many thousands is that camera?

Q: Where's the propeller --

Q: - like an overhead projector.

Q: While they're putting the picture up --

Bacon: There was a - in North Dakota, Minot Air Force Base, there was
a fire at approximately 5:00 a.m., I assume, local time today. And
there was a fire - it was at a Minuteman Missile Control Facility.
Now the facility itself is underground, in a capsule. But that's not
what burned. What burned is a support building on top of the ground.
That's what burned. And when that began - and if we get this
whiz-bang system lined up so we can show it, I think it will be clear
-- you can see that the building on top burned. They immediately shut
off access and air supplies from the - remember, this is a facility
designed to survive a nuclear blast. So surviving a fire of a building
on top is not a big challenge. And it, in fact, was not.

They were able to isolate its air supply and water supply, etc. There
were two people in the command facility underground. My understanding
is they're in good shape.

They, I hope, have the fire out by now. I don't have a picture of the
fire. I just have a picture of the facility here.

Q: Are the two people still underground?

Bacon: They were when I came in here at quarter of 2:00.

Q: Were the responsibilities for that launch facility then handed off
to a redundant system somewhere else, or did it remain operational, do
you know?

Bacon: I don't know the answer to that question. We'll try to find

Q: Is that longer than they should have been underground, or did their
12-hour shifts just start?

Bacon: I don't know when this happened in their shift, but let me
point out again that they're working in a facility designed to survive
a nuclear blast, and it's designed to keep them there. Now, this is --
I don't have a pointer - but the building that burned is in the back
there, this long, flat building going back. And the facility itself,
where the Air Force officers were operating, is underground. It's that
tube underground with all those pipes on top. And what they did was
shut off the air supply et cetera between the underground capsule and
the burning house on top as they put out the fire in the house, and
they were able to maintain pure air and water and other
life-sustaining elements for the crew in the underground bunker.

Q: Is there a silo associated with that facility?

Bacon: No, actually there are not silos nearby near this facility.
It's not one of these little things where there are a couple of silos
around the launch - this isn't a launch facility.

Q: They weren't launch officers or --

Bacon: No. These aren't the guys with the dual keys and --

Q: Right. Okay.

Bacon: Right.

Q: Do you know what caused the fire?

Bacon: I don't. I don't yet. We'll try to get more information on
that, but --

Q: Was the building a total loss?

Bacon: I think the building burned - it was quite a severe fire.
Whether it was a total loss, I don't know. But it would be, I'm sure,
a bad fire.

Q: Any idea what the cause - caused the fire?

Bacon: No.

Q: Nobody was --

Bacon: But it is being investigated by local authorities.

Q: The two people inside, they're trapped inside, is that right? They
can't get out?

Bacon: The two people inside are being kept safely underground until
the smoke clears and the fire apparatus gets the fire out, and then
they'll come up.

I want to stress, again, this is a facility built to protect people
from nuclear blasts and radiation, so it has food and water and air
and other things they need in there to survive for a considerable
length of time. And these people are completely safe. They are not
injured. No one was injured by this blaze, but certainly not the
people underground in the nuclear safe facility.

Q: But they have --

Bacon: General, I can see why you're leaving.

Q: He's trying to get a better look.

Q: Ken, you said these people were not launch officers. Is this part
of the whole launch complex? And what part does it play?

Bacon: It's called a missile alert facility.

Q: They have a launch control center.

Q: Yeah, they're the launchers - (inaudible) --

Q: Don't these - they control and monitor, Ken, Minuteman-3?

Bacon: I'll get all the details on this. I just deal with pictures.

Q: Ken, I notice the schematic has on one side of it - it says
"emergency escape tunnel." Now if you had needed - these people had
needed to get out, could they have gotten out, and you just - they're
not to use that, I guess.

Bacon: I don't think it was dangerous enough for them to escape.

Q: They were trying to --

Bacon: Emergency conditions, right.

Q: So they're a hundred feet underground?

Bacon: I don't know the answer.