What is the White House Situation Room?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The White House Situation Room is a 5,000 square foot (455 meter) complex of rooms designed, as one might imagine from the name, for the handling of situations of critical importance to national security. The complex includes several conference rooms and video rooms, including rooms where the President of the United States can receive intelligence briefings, communicate securely with people all over the world, and meet with staff members.

The White House Situation Room is secured with Secret Service personnel.
The White House Situation Room is secured with Secret Service personnel.

President John F. Kennedy is credited with the development of the Situation Room. After the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy argued that the President required information in real time, a space set aside for dealing with security situations, and a safe environment for conferencing. The result was the construction of the White House Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing of the White House.

The Bay of Pigs failure prompted President Kennedy to argue for what would become known as the White House Situation Room.
The Bay of Pigs failure prompted President Kennedy to argue for what would become known as the White House Situation Room.

Under President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007, the Situation Room was substantially renovated and updated. Prior to the renovations, the space was cramped, and much of the equipment was over two decades old. The renovations were designed to make the space more secure and effective, and to lay the groundwork for future renovations, making it easier to update the space to accommodate new technology and concerns.

The White House situation room includes several conference rooms where the President can safely and securely communicate with staff members or other world leaders.
The White House situation room includes several conference rooms where the President can safely and securely communicate with staff members or other world leaders.

Like other areas of the White House, the White House Situation room is secured with the use of a variety of techniques, including Secret Service personnel and video monitoring, but the complex is not buried in an underground bunker, contrary to legend. The space is administered by staffers from the National Security Council, and members of the Department of Homeland Security also utilize the space, as does the White House Chief of Staff.

The accommodations and available technology in the White House Situation Room are quite extensive. The space includes monitoring technology to detect bugs and unauthorized electronic access, along with numerous computer terminals, television screens, and videoconferencing equipment. Secure telephones and other secured communications devices are also available, allowing the President to speak with foreign leaders and representatives of the United States Government without fear of being overheard.

Visitors to the White House are sometimes shown the Situation Room. Several actors have been invited to visit for research, and heads of state and government officials may meet with the President or the President's staff in the Situation Room. Although the suite of rooms is primarily focused on creating a space to meet about intelligence issues and related topics, the Situation Room has also been used for more informal and unrelated purposes.

The White House Situation Room is in the basement of the West Wing.
The White House Situation Room is in the basement of the West Wing.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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