Mystery: Underground secrets


    By Katrina Barker

    Secret escape route? Mountains of food storage? Underground offices? Passageways to the Provo temple and MTC?

    Rumors abound about BYU”s system of underground tunnels, but do they really exist, and what are they used for? The answer may not be as mysterious as everyone thinks.

    Yes, it is true, tunnels wind under BYU”s beautiful buildings and grounds. But are the tunnels part of some vast disaster relief plan? Can President Hinckley go unnoticed through secret corridors?

    According to Scott Briggs of BYU”s physical facilities, the underground tunnels that traverse the main campus are more like a mineshaft. They are dark crowded passages lined with heating and water pipes and steam, power and communication lines.

    No secret entries lead into President Samuelson”s office, and they do not go to the dorms, the MTC or the temple, either.

    In fact, Cliff Riley, an engineer for BYU”s physical facilities, described the tunnels as dark and uncomfortable.

    “You have to work to get through — it”s very tight,” Riley said. “When you go in, you are anxious to get out.”

    “A tall person has to bend at the waist to get through,” Briggs said.

    Normally, pipes and power lines are buried in the ground, but tunnels protect them from erosion caused by minerals in the soil. In the tunnels, they hang on racks in an open-air environment so the life cycle is much longer.

    Only maintenance personnel are permitted to enter the tunnels because the pipes and powerlines can be very dangerous.

    The Occupational Safety & Health Administration classified the tunnels as “confined spaces” which, according to BYU”s Risk Management & Safety Department Web site, are “dangerous, even potentially lethal work areas. Personnel can be exposed to a wide range of atmospheric, chemical, explosion, mechanical and electrical hazards. And in the event of an accident, rescue may be both difficult and dangerous.”

    Riley said the heating pipes in the tunnels reach temperatures up to 400 degrees. Maintenance personnel must check-in at the heating plant before entering and check out when they return. They also must carry a radio and flashlight when inside.

    These precautions are necessary, Riley said, because a person could die if they were to get lost inside the tunnels without anyone knowing.

    Riley said in the past there was evidence that unauthorized people had found their way into the tunnels because of graffiti on the walls. Now there is increased security. And no, your R.A. doesn”t have a key, despite what he or she claims.

    “I”m pretty doubtful that anyone has been in there, although they may say they have,” Riley said.

    Obviously, BYU”s underground tunnels are not quite the romantic escape route students imagined.

    But the question remains — how exactly does President Hinckley get from the JSB to the temple?

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