Much has been said about the secretive vault situated 80 feet below ground level at 33 Liberty street, which contains over 20% of the world's gold (allegedly*), currently estimated at over $350 billion. Some have even robbed it: with the barrier between fantasy and reality a blur, courtesy of the total farce we live in which has rendered the IPO of TheOnion impossible, there is nothing wrong with actually believing Die Hard With A Vengeance did in fact happen. But if your knowledge of the vault is limited to the perspective of one John McClane, you are missing our on a lot. Which is why the new York Fed, in those rare occasions when it is not monetizing debt, and/or telling Citadel which securities to buy, has been courteous enough to put together "The Key To The Gold Vault" - the official brochure of the warehouse where more gold is stored than at any other place in the world.
The gold stored at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is secured in a most unusual vault. It rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Island—one of the few foundations considered adequate to support the weight of the vault, its door, and the gold inside—80 feet below street level and 50 feet below sea level.
As of early 2008, the Fed’s vault contained roughly 216 million troy ounces of gold (1 troy oz. is 1.1 times as heavy as the avoirdupois ounce, with which we are more familiar), representing about 22 percent of the world’s official monetary gold reserves. At the time, the vault’s gold value was about $9.1 billion at the official U.S. government price of $42.2222 per troy ounce, or about $194 billion at the market price of $900 an ounce. At the current official U.S. government price, one of the vault’s gold bars (approximately 27.4 pounds) is valued at about $17,000. At a $900 market price, the same bar is worth about $360,000.
Foreign governments and official international organizations store their gold at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York because of their confidence in its safety, the convenient services the Bank offers, and its location in one of the world’s leading financial capitals.
The Bank stores gold in the form of bars that resemble construction bricks and stacks them on wooden pallets like those used in warehouses. To reach the vault, the bullion-laden pallets must be loaded into one of the Bank’s elevators and sent down five floors below street level to the vault floor. The elevator’s movements are controlled by an operator who is in a distant room and communicates by intercom with the armed guards accompanying the shipment.
Once inside the vault, the gold bars become the responsibility of a control group consisting of representatives of three Bank divisions: Auditing, Vault Services, and Custody. A member of each division must be present whenever gold is moved or whenever anyone enters the vault.
If everything is in order, the gold is either moved to one or more of the vault’s 122 compartments assigned to depositing countries and official international organizations or placed on shelves in one of the “library” compartments shared by several countries. The bars are stacked one at a time in an overlapping pattern similar to that used to stabilize a brick wall. Each compartment is secured by a padlock, two combination locks, and an auditor’s seal.
And here is why we used a * footnote above:
Confidence results from the Bank’s being part of the Federal Reserve System—the nation’s central bank and an independent governmental entity. The political stability and economic strength of the United States, as well as the physical security provided by the Bank’s vault, also are important factors.
Good luck finding it then. And for those who want to pull a Simon Peter Gruber and have already rented out the dump trucks:
Storing almost $194 billion [ZH: at very old prices] of gold makes extensive security measures mandatory at the New York Fed. An important measure is the background investigation required of all Bank employees. Continuous supervision by the vault control group also prevents problems from arising by ensuring that proper security procedures are followed.
The Bank and its vaults are secured by the Bank’s own uniformed protection force. Twice a year, each federal officer must qualify with a handgun, shotgun and rifle at the Bank’s firing range. Although the minimum requirement is a marksman’s score, most qualify as experts.
Security is also enhanced by a closed-circuit television system and by an electronic surveillance system that alerts Central Watch when a vault door is opened or closed. The alarm system signals the officers to seal all security areas and Bank exits. This can be accomplished in less than twenty-five seconds.
The gold also is secured by the vault’s design, which is a masterpiece of protective engineering. The vault is actually the bottom floor of a three-story bunker of vaults arranged like strongboxes stacked on top of one another. The massive walls surrounding the vault are made of a steel-reinforced structural concrete.
There are no doors into the gold vault. Entry is through a narrow 10-foot passageway cut in a delicately balanced, nine-feet-tall, 90-ton steel cylinder that revolves vertically in a 140-ton, steel-and-concrete frame. The vault is opened and closed by rotating the cylinder 90 degrees. An airtight and watertight seal is achieved by lowering the slightly tapered cylinder three-eighths of an inch into the frame, which is similar to pushing a cork down into a bottle. The cylinder is secured in place when two levers insert large bolts, four recessed in each side of the frame, into the cylinder. By unlocking a series of time and combination locks, Bank personnel can open the vault the next business day. The locks are under “multiple control”—no one individual has all the combinations necessary to open the vault.
The weight of the gold—just over 27 pounds per bar—makes it difficult to lift or carry and obviates the need to search vault employees and visitors before they leave the vault. Nor do they have to be checked for specks of gold. Gold is relatively soft, but not so soft that particles will stick to clothing or shoes, or can be scraped from the bars. The Bank’s security arrangements are so trusted by depositors that few have ever asked to examine their gold.
To think: so much trouble for a little tungsten...