Heritage Ottawa – Gordon Cullingham Grant

I recently received great news from the Heritage Ottawa Association that I am to be one of two recipients in 2014 of a grant from the Gordon Cullingham Research and Publication Fund.

Gordon Cullingham was a well-known Canadian journalist, broadcaster, editor and heritage activist for whom this Grant is named.

The Grant is to be presented at the City of Ottawa’s Heritage Day on Feb 18 at City Hall.

This Grant will certainly help me address the administrative costs associated with research and writing, and provide for a few cups of coffee so I can sit down and think great thoughts…. there, enough great thoughts for this year.

I’m very grateful to the Executive Director and staff of the Diefenbunker Museum for suggesting this grant and assisting me with my submission.

I hope I’ll have the opportunity to meet some of you at City Hall on Feb 18.

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The Critical Path Method and the Diefenbunker

Information about the Diefenbunker states that its design and construction was one of the first uses of the Critical Path Method for a large project in Canada.

I certainly believe this, but to this point I have had virtually no success in coming up with hard evidence.

A little bit of background.

The Critical Path Method – CPM – was created in the late 50s, initially in either the US or the UK (depends which on-line references you choose to believe).

In the US, it was required as the American government and DOD realized their ambitious program for submarine construction required a much more efficient method of building the boats than the practices developed earlier in WWII.

What is CPM? This management method identifies all activities in a given project, establishes the resources (workers, equipment, software and IT, etc) necessary to complete each activity, and their anticipated duration, and most importantly confirms the interdependencies of each activity to all others.

Interdependencies define which tasks must be completed, or be at a given stage of completion (e.g. 50%), before another activity can begin. Important project milestones can also be wrapped into the process.

When all activities are laid out on a time scale predicated on sequence and interdependencies, a picture will emerge which clearly shows the Critical Path – that is, the sequence of activities which define the earliest possible project completion date. Any delay to an activity on the Critical Path will delay the overall project completion.

Activities which are not on the Critical Path can be used to level out resource demands, or used as opportunity targets to keep specific resources employed.

This in simple terms is how the Critical Path Method functions as a management tool – although there are as many differing approaches, terminology, and displays as there are CPM consultants.

It was interesting examining some CPM instructional material in the Diefenbunker Archives. These were the very lessons I had received as a young officer at our Engineer School in Chilliwack in the 60s – and which I later taught to young British Army officers when I was on exchange with the British Army as an instructor.

But, to the Diefenbunker and CPM.

On the NFB film Nuclear Roof (describing the construction and initial use of the Diefenbunker, which can be viewed on the Diefenbunker web site) there is a tantalizingly short glimpse, in very bad lighting, of what is described as the CPM chart used to manage the Bunker construction. It certainly looks like a CPM chart from what can be seen.

However, to this point I’ve not been able to locate any specific or physical evidence of this mystery CPM chart.

It would be a coup to get my hands on such a chart, and I will continue to look into all possibilities.

The Foundation Engineering Corporation (FENCON) of Montreal, the design and construction management engineering company which built the Diefenbunker, is mentioned on AECON’s site as a predecessor company and part of AECON’s history.

I’ve contacted AECON twice in the past months, using their web site contact tool, seeking their assistance in identifying any Diefenbunker archival material they may have from FENCON.

So far, nothing heard. Not even an indication that my requests were received.

AECON – anybody home?

(Update Feb 6 – AECON Corporate Services has responded to my request stating that no records remain in their files of the Diefenbunker period. This is unfortunate, but I will continue to search for additional material.)

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Okay – Let’s Design a Large Government Shelter

Foundation Engineering Corporation (FENCON) of Montreal was selected as the design and construction engineering company for the Diefenbunker. FENCON was later subsumed by what we know today as AECON Group.

FENCON had what might be called an interesting challenge.

“Design a structure that can hold up to, oh let’s say 500 people, for about, I don’t know, maybe 30 days, after some bomb-thingies strike the Ottawa area, and which will survive all that blast, radiation and nasty fallout stuff.”

Well, that was fun to write, but it’s a very unfair depiction of the task given to FENCON. Scrutiny of material (almost all of which is now unclassified) in Library and Archives Canada, DND’s Directorate of Heritage and History, and the Diefenbunker Archives themselves show the deliberations of senior government officials to define the threat and the requirement, in the very real context of the Cold War and the chilling phrase Mutual Assured Destruction, appropriately known as MAD.

The project was discussed under limited code-word security. Project/Operation BRIDGE, RUSTIC and EASE (Experimental Army Signals Establishment) were used at various times to refer to what would become the Diefenbunker.

The FENCON engineers had to make many assumptions – the magnitude and nature (air or ground burst) of nuclear weapons likely to strike Ottawa, where they might strike based on strategic assessments and best-guesses of the likely error in delivery systems’ accuracy, the immediate effects of blast, radiation and fallout, and the probable enduring impacts on, for example, air and water purity. Weapons effects information was gleaned from information shared by the USA from their many tests in the Nevada desert.

It’s evident from archive material that the assumptions which underlaid the design were developed by a wide and well-informed group, and that the assumptions were comprehensive, detailed, and disturbingly graphic.

This led to the basic concept of the structure – an underground facility afforded a much cheaper and more easily constructed design than one on the surface – and to a host of design aspects intended to minimize the effects of blast and to shut down all linkages to the outside world – air, water, power, communications, etc – in milliseconds on detection of a blast.

Ultimately the design was for a 100,000 sq.ft. building equally distributed over 4 floors, giving a square footprint of about 160 ft on a side.

One interesting design element and perhaps the best known aspect of the Diefenbunker is the approach blast tunnel. If you’ve seen the excellent movie Sum of All Fears, based on a Tom Clancy novel, the opening sequences as the President and his senior advisors rush down a long tunnel and into a meeting room were filmed in the Diefenbunker.

The approach Blast Tunnel was designed to a specified strength, size and overhead protection, and configured so that a blast would effectively pass through the tunnel and out the opposite end, passing at right angles to the main Bunker entrance, which was nevertheless protected by massive hydraulically operated armoured doors.

The Diefenbunker holds much of the FENCON design proposal documentation, which lays out in admirably brief and stark language the assumed effects of strike, the required immediate reactive and protective physical measures, and the longer term facilities and services required to survive the effects and provide critical Government of Canada services from within a locked-down building.

The FENCON design proposal addressed every aspect of immediate response to an attack, and the support facilities for an extended stay underground – power, fuel, water, food, communications to the outside world, waste systems, and measures to mitigate likely mental and emotional reactions among the sealed-in occupants.

Getting construction underway and moving quickly demanded even more ingenuity from the engineering team (now including FENCON and Army engineers) as design adaptations were introduced concurrently with construction, all under intense time pressures, and within a construction site and building frame extremely constricted in building and working space.

How was this managed? – by the first use in Canada of the Critical Path Management method for a large construction project.


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The Diefenbunker – Some Questions

So – the Diefenbunker.

A Google search on Diefenbunker will produce a moderate number of interesting hits, but on examination most are derived from several recent foundation documents. (There are also some very interesting news and TV clips from the 60s, showing the concern with which Cold War threats were managed in Canada.)

From a design and construction perspective, the Bunker is touted as being an example of many engineering innovations, such as first use of the Critical Path Management method for project control, application of submarine design elements within the structure, complete grounding of the strucutre to protect sensitive communications equipment, use of a no-break power system, length continuous concrete pours to provide the seamless construction necessary to resist planned overpressures from nuclear blasts, and many other claimed advanced techniques for that period.

Perhaps most intriguingly – how is a structure designed and built that is intended to house up to 500 people, for critical government functions and basic accommodation, totally locked in for up to 30 days, should the worst consequence of the Cold War occur?

I’ve been a volunteer at the Bunker since the fall of 2013, specifically in the area of assisting the digitization of the Museum’s vast collection.

I’ve also taken up the challenge of a personal project to focus on some selected design and construction innovations, describe them more fully, and ideally locate some of the individuals who may have been involved at the time. The product would be a publication (smaller than a book, larger than a brochure) to be given to the Diefenbunker and other interested organizations to support their education programs.

Given the 50-plus years since the Bunker’s construction, the possibility of being able to talk with people who were directly involved is becoming increasingly unlikely, but perhaps there are second-order opportunities among family and colleagues.

Are you out there?

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How did I get here?

We are told that there are always lessons to be learned from history, from what has gone before us, to prevent fighting the last war or re-inventing the wheel.

Coming from a military family (my Dad was a British soldier – SAS – in the Second World War, and subsequently a Senior NCO in the Canadian Army when we emigrated to Canada in the mid-50s), having been in the Army myself for nearly 30 years, and then being involved as a provincial and federal public servant for another 20-plus years in national security and emergency management, I’ve always had an abiding interest in the events and processes that have led to current circumstances.

A close family member is a very well self-informed expert on European history going back many decades, much of which is by nature associated with military issues.

It’s always intriguing to seek to understand the logical historical rationale for current circumstances – or perhaps just to learn that there is none and that we are where we are for arcane or trivial reasons, and that we are indeed destined to fight the last war, and re-invent the wheel.

I had occasions during my military and public service career to be aware of the Government’s Cold War plans for continuity of government, manifested in the early 60s by the construction of the Diefenbunker in Carp, Ontario, and similar-purposed smaller facilities across the country.

Several months ago I became intrigued by the design and construction of the Diefenbunker, which was built from 1959-61, and then served as a DND communications facility until 1994 when it was decommissioned. Shortly after that it became a Museum and a designated National Historic Site, and now operates as “The Diefenbunker – Canada’s Cold War Museum” (http://diefenbunker.ca/).

As a Museum, the Diefenbunker is enjoying remarkable success which will hopefully continue. It hosted nearly 50,000 visitors last year, with almost half being under the age of 19 – an interesting statistic, and which suggests there is a young audience for such topics.

Stay tuned – more to follow.

Lots more.

Mountains of crushingly detailed material and abject pleas for assistance.

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