Covid Pandemic Made DEVCOM Chemical Biological Center Stronger, Better
By Dr. Brian B. Feeney
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is a well-known quote often used in military circles. In this case, it tells the story of how the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) is facing down COVID-19 and will come out of it better able to perform its mission – serving the warfighter and the nation.
A Supreme Test and Training Ground
“The pandemic and our response to it has been our opportunity to see what we’re made of, and that is grit, dedication to the mission, and to the spirit of innovation,” said DEVCOM CBC Director Dr. Eric Moore. “I will look back on this as a supreme test, and a test that we passed. It has made me fully appreciate the strength and resilience of the people who I am honored to lead.”
The real beneficiary of this test is the warfighter and the nation. “There will be another pandemic. There will also likely be cyberattacks, other biological events, and other things that in the past have been the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not,” said Moore. “We need to think about how our warfighters and the public would be affected and start working on those solutions now. Adapting to all the limitations and obstacles COVID-19 created is the best possible real world training for everyone at the Center.”
Lessons for Leadership
This rethinking included how Center leadership manages its workforce. “How do we manage all the new challenges? We trust our people,” said Thomas Woloszyn, DEVCOM CBC chief of staff. “That means that as leaders and managers, we have become more patient and flexible with respect to our team. Working in the home with schools closed created new pressures and stresses for people.”
Woloszyn feels strongly that he needs to maintain his connection with the workforce. In normal circumstances he would do that in person by visiting staff sections, participating in meetings and attending Center events. In a telework setting it means having the tools to connect to the workforce virtually – using audio, video, file sharing, and other technology to ensure clear and consistent communication.
“I found that I can be available and call for online meetings quickly, and by having more of them, be able to make them shorter. That increases the human connection,” said Woloszyn. “We got more productive, and if anything, the problem has become not letting yourself get too caught up in work since it is easy to be available at all times right there in your home.” The upside of connectivity is that, going forward, any serious incident concerning the Center and its work can be addressed by its key people immediately, even if it means walking downstairs to the home office in the middle of the night.
Earning Deeper Trust with Higher Headquarters
The experience has also had a profound impact on the Center’s relationship with its chain of command. “We can always go to higher command for pandemic guidance and collaboration,” said Joseph Gordon, assistant chief of staff for operations. “For the first few months we reported to our command daily to stay accountable for our people’s safety. We found ourselves frequently praised for our responsiveness and proactiveness. That built mutual trust which we will have going forward.”
Coming Out Better
There are many other enduring positive changes, too. “We are now far more flexible and creative about how, where, and when we accomplish our critical mission to support the warfighter and defend the nation,” said Director of Operational Applications Dr. Paul Tanenbaum. “As an organization, we have learned to stay flexible and adjust to the unexpected. We have learned how to better listen—there are great ideas from all over the organization. And most important, we in leadership saw a great demonstration – if we can focus on taking care of the people, then they’ll take care of the mission.”
The People Who Made Teleworking Possible
Had the pandemic occurred 20 years ago, or even ten years ago, the relatively smooth transition to all-hands teleworking at most organizations would not have happened. This critical adaptation to the pandemic’s new normal relied on recent software advances. DEVCOM CBC also relied on the grit and ingenuity of its G-6 Information Management team to ensure the right hardware and software got in place to allow the Center to keep performing its mission. Connectivity has always been crucial to the Center. It allows for better collaboration among DEVCOM CBC facilities located at four Army installations around the country. From managing million-dollar decisions on funding to actually performing the research and product development, connectivity keeps chemical and biological protection technology flowing to the warfighter.
The Starting Gun
“By early March, we all knew it was coming. In anticipation, in mid-February we had increased our capability to use Citrix Virtual Desktop as a work around if needed, it’s a software platform that allows multiple users to remotely access and operate Microsoft Windows desktops,” said Shawn McElheny, the Center’s chief technology officer.
However, what made it feel real to the G-6 team was when, on March 10, 2020, the chief of staff of the Center’s higher headquarters notified them that in just seven days every one of DEVCOM’s seven research laboratories were going to have an all-hands teleworking drill. All employees would stay home that day and try to telework. DEVCOM leadership would then assess how it went and chart a path forward.
"The day after the exercise, March 18, the chief information officers at each of the labs discussed it together,” said McElheny. “The results were very mixed. We did pretty well because we have a relatively small workforce compared to the other labs, and we had a high percentage of employees who had government laptops rather than desktop computers, so we got around 50 percent of the workforce connected and productive from that cold start.” Some laboratories had as many as 12,000 employees and heavily relied on desktop computers, so they didn’t do as well.
“The biggest obstacle for the Center was a shortage of licenses to use Citrix plus a hardware limitation of the Virtual Private Network (VPN) concentrator we were using at the time,” McElheny said. VPN and Citrix allow people to access applications and files remotely, but each connection has to be licensed from the vendor, and those connections required more servers than they were using at the time.
Change of Course
“The G-6 had 16 servers set aside to perform its system-wide refresh for the Center. A refresh is simply replacing the existing servers with new servers; industry practice is to do it every five years,” said Kerry Lawrence, the G-6 enterprise architect. On March 18, instead of changing them out, the team added them to the existing bank of five-year-old servers to dramatically boost capacity.
“Knowing the entire Center workforce needed connectivity right away, we worked until 10 p.m. on March 18 racking and stacking the new servers,” said Dave Eissner G-6 systems lead. G-6 also made use of existing hardware that did several things. It increased the number of users each server could accommodate, made more bandwidth available through web traffic optimization, and improved security and resiliency. The result was that at no additional cost, the team increased the VPN capacity to over 2,000 – a ten-fold increase in teleworking capacity. As it turned out, the average for the Center established itself at between 1,200 and 1,300 users per day. The G-6 met the average daily need with room to spare.
Service Desk Goes Remote
The men and women who make up the Service Desk staff had to shift to remote working just like the rest of the workforce. This sudden shift to teleworking by the entire workforce all at once meant that the Service Desk had to deal with a surge in demand as people newly working from home struggled with gaining and keeping connectivity. That meant a lot of Service Desk requests. The Service Desk team members had to respond to that surge while going through their own transition to performing all their duties from home.
“An immediate effect was that people were no longer able to physically bring their computers to us at our Service Desk building to fix a hardware problem as had always been the case,” said John Carnahan, the G-6 program manager in charge of the Service Desk. “So we used FedEx to move equipment between users’ homes and our warehouse, and we established once-a-week pickups at the warehouse.”
In the first four months of the pandemic, the Service Desk handled 6,500 tickets. That is what they normally average in a year. “The majority of the tickets concerned connectivity issues,” said Carnahan. “So we developed how-to documents on connectivity which we e-mailed out and placed on the Center’s intranet. As time went on, maintaining connectivity became more routine for the workforce and for us, so it settled down after a while.”
Six weeks into the mass migration to telework the workforce had sustained connectivity and could remain productive on their computers. However, they still needed to be able to conduct meetings, preferably with cameras to preserve some element of human connection.
“In late April, the DoD completed contract negotiations with Microsoft to provide the camerabased remote meeting service, Teams, to its entire workforce,” said McElheny. “That’s 1.4 million users in the Army alone. It also required cameras, so we had to work with our Security Office to get hundreds of camera passes, buy the cameras, then FedEx all those cameras out to our users.”
Everyone on the G-6 management team had to master Teams right away and then perform demonstrations for the members of Center leadership to prove its value. They performed over 30 in all and convinced them that Teams would be good for efficiency and morale. In a short time, 94 percent of the Center’s workforce was routinely using Teams to hold meetings. In fact, it has worked out so well, that in June, the Center began using an upgraded version of the software that is ushering in post-pandemic new normal of routine remote meetings.
This new teleworking normal did not continue uneventfully. On July 6, 2020, an excavation contractor crew accidently severed a server fiber optic cable line while digging on post. All of the Center’s computer connections went down in an instant. In fact, the G-6 staff was in the midst of a Teams meeting themselves when everything went dark on their screens. Kerry Lawrence began working with Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Department of Public Works immediately to get the line replaced on an emergency basis. “Fortunately, Garrison had another, undamaged fiber optic cable available,” said Lawrence. “Within hours we were able to migrate electronic traffic to that line and remote work was able to resume.”
The speedy resolution of the cable line break did not mean that the G-6 team could relax. In late July 2020, the House Armed Services Committee launched a cyber-security audit of all DoD laboratories that handle chemical agent or biological pathogen data. Cyber-security experts inspected the Center’s entire data network from late July through mid-August. While the system passed inspection handily, it required members of the G-6 leadership team to go on post and accompany the inspectors rather than directing day-to-day teleworking operations. And, all involved, inspectors and G-6 members, had to be fully masked and follow all COVID-19 safety requirements.
As the G-6 management team takes stock of these experiences, they all agree that they, and their staff of nearly 70 people, met every challenge they faced and got everything done. “We have a great team in the G-6, I always knew that every one of them would go the extra mile to make sure the Center could continue its mission. They never disappointed me,” said McElheny.
The pandemic has improved the Center’s information management functions, too, according to McElheny. “The G-6 is now able to accommodate any mix of teleworking and onsite working that circumstances may dictate or that Army leadership might require. And, we know we can handle anything from a network blip to someone accidently drilling a hole through our network backbone.”
His advice to anyone in the same position for some future disruption of the same magnitude is, “Don’t get overwhelmed, deal with the most important thing first, enabling the teleworking. Then move on to tackle other problems as they come up, one at a time.”
A Beginning, Not an End
Adapting to the pandemic through widespread telework has changed work culture at the Center according to Tracey Corkran, the Center’s assistant chief of staff for human capital. “We are still in the process of evolving our telework culture. As we start to develop return to work plans we have to consider DEVCOM’s Future of Work concept, which encourages allowing employees to work when and where they are most productive, while balancing this with our mission.”
Many employees now see teleworking, whether most of the time or part of the time, as a better way to work. “I’ve heard employees say that they would have never considered themselves someone who would want to telework, but that they have truly enjoyed the opportunity to do so and the benefits that have come with it, like an improved work life-balance,” said Corkran. “We have a large number of employees who work outside of the Harford and Cecil County area, so for many folks they have loved gaining an hour or more back in their day not having to commute each day.”
Center Capabilities Enable Response to National Pandemic Needs
One of DEVCOM CBC’s most important capabilities is rapidly turning concepts for products that can better protect the warfighter into prototypes so designers can fast track their design and fielding.
This initial prototyping allows designers to make rapid refinements. The Center then produces the new product in small quantities using additive manufacturing and other state of the art techniques.
At that point, Center customers have a product that can be put in warfighters hands and tested in the real world. Or, in the case of the pandemic, added to the arsenal of the all-of-nation pandemic response.
Sudden Shift in Priorities
As the Center pivoted to teleworking for most of its workforce in March 2020, nearly half of the workforce that specializes in this hands-on work, the Advanced Design and Manufacturing (ADM) Business Unit, continued working on-site at the CBRNE Product Development Facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
“We had many projects involving the development of new defense technologies underway when the pandemic suddenly changed everything,” said Kevin Wallace, chief of the System Engineering and Acquisition Division. “Several of those projects were put on pause, and we were put to work on new, pandemic-focused projects.”
Maintaining Combat Readiness
For example, Soldiers of the National Guard still had to train. In the summer of 2020, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division was ordered by the U.S. Army to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., on a training rotation. The challenge was to develop a method to test all 3,909 members of the brigade for COVID-19 prior to boarding their flights to the training center. What the Army needed was a method to test each Soldier rapidly at their embarkation site, Camp Ripley Training Center in Minnesota, which had no medical facilities to perform the testing.
Center engineers working with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) outfitted two mobile laboratories with the analytical equipment needed to test Soldiers for COVID-19. The first step of the process was to have the original equipment manufacturer train engineering personnel on how to perform mobile laboratory setup. Once the personnel were trained, ADM specialists developed a load plan with a packaging configuration that included analytical equipment designed to detect COVID-19 and all the support materials that go with it. Most of this work had be done with only two people in the mobile laboratories at a time to maintain social distancing in a very confined space.
The Center’s Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) business unit, which specializes in chemical and biological mobile field operations, were called in to help with the load plan. After everything that could possibly move inside them during transit was strapped down, CBARR technicians transported the mobile laboratories to Camp Ripley, 1,230 miles away. When they arrived at Camp Ripley, engineering personnel quickly reassembled the laboratories. As a result, 3,909 members of the brigade were screened and able to participate in training critical to combat readiness.
Filling In Supply Chain Gaps
When the nation’s supply chain for personal protective equipment and clinical supplies broke down under the strain of demand, working groups from several Defense agencies and the armed services were quickly formed to identify alternate manufacturing processes and sources to fill the gap. As part of this team, DEVCOM CBC assisted with the adaption and deployment of a singleuse additively manufactured specialized nasal swab, known as a nasopharyngeal swab that can collect clinical test samples of nasal secretions from the back of the nose.
“We provided our vast expertise of polymer 3D printing and also served as a communication link across the government and industry partnerships that had been formed. This ultimately resulted in several new 3D printed designs and we added a new supply source to address the demand,” said Wallace.
Center personnel also served on DEVCOM’s COVID-19 Advanced Manufacturing Taskforce where Wallace and his CBC teammates worked with DoD personnel to address supply chain issues affecting masks, ventilators, and face shields using advanced manufacturing to fill gaps. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they also provided testing support for evaluating industry-supplied masks, filters, and face covering fabrics to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Working with a government-industry consortium in Huntsville, Ala., CBC developed an injection mold design for mask filters so that the filter material could be quickly and easily swapped out.
Putting Their Nation First
The Center engineers and technicians who reported on site during the height of the pandemic to get these jobs done never hesitated, according to Chika Nzelibe, chief of the Engineering Design and Analysis Branch. “They were anxious to come in and do this work because they wanted to help with the response to a national crisis. As a group, this made us closer, and I got to see how well they work under stress.”
Wallace agreed, “We all came together to adapt to, and face head-on, all the stresses and restrictions the pandemic caused. Stopping work critical to the warfighter and our nation was not an option. And, by making us a stronger, more agile team, the pandemic has made us better able to serve the warfighter going forward.”
Center Ensures Supply of Critical Biosensor Material
Biological agents are an ever-present risk to warfighters in combat zones, and it’s the job of the Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center’s (DEVCOM CBC) to ensure that warfighters have the means to detect them in the field, pandemic or no pandemic.
To detect these dangerous substances, warfighters use a handheld device that reads samples and indicates results with a color change on a paper strip, much like a home pregnancy test.
This easy-to-use hand-held device works because the antibodies on the test strip capture any antigens in the air or surface sample. The Center is the Department of Defense designated is the sole repository of those antibodies, and that supply could not be disrupted by the pandemic.
“We ship this material out to Defense Biological Product Assurance Office (DBPAO) manufacturer, test labs, and customers on a regular schedule, and when the Center, following guidance from higher headquarters, reduced the number of people who could come on site, we knew we had to both comply with that while also keeping the shipments going,” said Melody Zacharko, a quality assurance specialist in the Center’s Biotechnology Branch which is responsible for the antibodies.
“The Center was given this responsibility by the Defense Biorisk Program Office which is part of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) because of the high quality of our safety procedures and our cradle to grave tracking of this material,” said Kelly Basi, chief of the Biotechnology Branch. “These antibodies also go to other Defense research laboratories for their research projects, but it is the biodetection role that warfighters rely on day in and day out to stay safe that we would absolutely not let get interrupted.”
The Biotechnology Branch is located on the Center’s main campus on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the antibodies are shipped anywhere in the world where they are needed. Ordinarily, Biotechnology Branch personnel work with the Center mailroom to send the material out via a commercial carrier. However, when the Center went into lockdown for all but mission-essential personnel the mailroom was closed. Basi’s team had to make other arrangements.
“Fortunately, we were able to work with the manager, Lindsay Cleary, who working from home, created shipping labels and organized the pick-ups of the shipments at our laboratory. That kept the shipments going out with no disruptions,” said Zacharko. “Additionally, we developed a form that stated exactly what was being shipped, when, and by whom; and it included automatic notification to our chain of command.”
During the height of the pandemic, completed forms went to our leadership team two days in advance. Forty-eight hours later, the antibodies were securely packaged in tubes ready for the carrier to pick up.
Biotechnology Branch personnel who placed the antibodies in the tubes and packaged them followed strict COVID-19 safety protocols. “Before each day I would fill out a form on the Center’s intranet created for this purpose,” said Zacharko. “Then Kelly Basi reported up the chain how many people would be in the lab, what substances they would handle, who they would be with, where they would perform their tasks, and confirm that they would wear makes and maintain proper social distancing. Each one was approved by the Center’s Safety and Health Office, division chief, and directorate’s associate director,” said Basi.
Not only did Basi strictly comply with higher headquarters’ COVID-19 guidance and the Center’s internal reporting requirements, she gave the members of her team the authority to decide for themselves if they were entirely comfortable with the safety arrangements, allowing them to opt out of coming in if they were not entirely comfortable. “We also discussed safety arrangements in all our teleconferenced branch meetings,” said Basi. “The idea was to be entirely transparent and build trust. It worked well.”
As a result of these efforts, the pace of shipments stayed on track. “Pre-COVID we sent out an average of 66 shipments per year, our pandemic average is 56 shipments per year,” said Zacharko. “We accomplished that while keeping safety our number one concern. Everybody feels safe and we all feeel good about our service to the warfighters. We now also have a model for how to keep shipments going under any kind of challenging conditions; another pandemic, a natural disaster, or a cyber-attack.”
Rock Island CBC Workers Adapt, Remain Focused on Mission
When your job is to provide the quality control data that keeps vital chemical and biological defense equipment going to the warfighter, or to provide the software that tracks defense research laboratories’ most deadly biological agents from cradle to grave, you cannot let a pandemic slow you down. The DEVCOM CBC site at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, has both missions and during the pandemic has become more agile and resilient in its ability to serve the warfighter
“We shifted to purchasing only laptops for our workforce several years ago, and by a year prior to the pandemic, almost everyone at Rock Island had one,” said Kevin Lee, associate director of Engineering for the Center’s Rock Island site. “Then, when we started tracking the progress of the COVID-19 epidemic starting in late December, 2019, we began collaborating with the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command to investigate the Virtual Private Network’s (VPN) capability to support teleworking. We had all our direct employees and contractors sign the Center’s teleworking agreement and take the training, so our transition was very smooth.”
That smooth transition paid dividends for the U.S. Army and all of the nation’s warfighters who depend on chemical biological protective gear to keep them safe in the battle zone. In addition to developing contract quality assurance requirements for equipment and tracking Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSATs) at defense laboratories, the two engineering divisions located at Rock Island perform other vital functions in support of the nation’s warfighters that could not be interrupted.
The Sustainment Engineering Division makes sure that the chemical and biological defense equipment being used by warfighters works exactly as it is supposed to in the field. It also provides the drawings and specifications for the purchase of new protective equipment when the Army awards contracts to vendors. The division also has supply chain experts who can find ways to get hard-to-find parts and materials. It even supports a portable machine shop that can repair equipment in theater.
The Sustainment Support Division provides quality assurance by reviewing test reports for accuracy, and it makes recommendations for improving how equipment functions and how to more efficiently acquire it from suppliers. The division has experts on how to best use the defense industrial base for acquisitions. It refines transaction agreements, provides information technology assurance, performs facilities management, and monitors the organization’s performance through an ISO-certified quality management system.
Getting Up to Speed
“When the majority of our workforce first started teleworking in March 2020, VPN connections could be spotty at times,” said Dwayne Fox, chief of the Knowledge and Data Management Branch within the Sustainment Support Division. “We did workarounds like doing off-line tasks during the middle of the workday then going online early in the morning or in the evening. But early on, the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command reallocated some servers and hardware to us and we only had minor hiccups after that.”
The Rock Island site was given a lot of autonomy by the Center’s senior leadership to follow the path that made the most sense for their local needs while following the Department of Defense and DEVCOM general guidance for pandemic safety. The portion of the workforce that had to be onsite to service or test equipment still came in, strictly following mask-wearing and social distancing protocols.
Video Conferencing was a Game-Changer
The Department of Defense securing Microsoft Teams for conducting meetings, chats, and phone calls in April 2020 was a real game-changer according to Fox. “Suddenly we were able to hold staff meetings and town halls. We set up groups within Teams and that enabled close collaboration between people because we could call them in to ongoing meetings on the fly and hop from meeting to meeting. We absolutely loved it.”
This new capability proved to be a boon for onboarding new employees and for maintaining community engagement according to Rebecca Rockwell, chief of the Production Engineering Branch. “While ideally we want to have new employees build relationships with their colleagues through face-to-face interactions, we were able to use this capability to assign mentors to them and have lots of contact through Teams.”
Mother Nature Throws a Curve
By late April of 2020, the Rock Island campus had finished establishing a new teleworking normal that enabled it to fully carry on its mission. However, as with all human endeavors, nature bats last. “In August of 2020 we experienced a very severe derecho. The east Iowa and west central Illinois region, including the Rock Island Arsenal, were hard hit. Winds of over 100 miles an hour took out power to many of our employees’ homes and knocked out part of our telework network. It took three days to get everyone back online, but there were no injuries or property damage. We made sure everyone was alright and resumed work safely,” said Lee.
Stronger, Better, More Adaptable
Rock Island site leadership expects teleworking to remain a large factor after the pandemic. They are currently working on the best balance to strike. “The experience has shown me that the workforce is highly productive when everyone is teleworking. It is also highly productive when everyone is onsite,” said Fox. “The mix of the two is harder. We will rely heavily on Teams for mixed work, and I expect that we will have once-a-week, or at least once-a-pay-period all hands in the office days.”
Some branches will revert back to mostly onsite. “My branch does facilities maintenance, ISO compliance, and IT support, so onsite is ideal,” said Rockwell. “But we will have increased flexibility compared with before.”
Fox sees the experience as a paradigm shift in how people work at Rock Island. “It opened everyone’s eyes; it was a proof of concept that we can be very productive teleworking. That suggests that it is possible to hire software developers outside the area that we couldn’t get otherwise to perform mission critical tasks.” Lee added, “It also showed us that there is nothing remote about our being in Rock Island with our headquarters and main research campus being in Maryland. Online collaboration is the same whether you’re across town or across the country. The pandemic got us there.”
APG South Renewal Continues Despite Pandemic
DEVCOM CBC has a technology corridor in the making along Ricketts Point Road at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. It is central to the Center’s future, and with the help of its Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) business unit, not even a global pandemic can slow it down.
Ultimately, the CBC corridor will combine with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense and the Public Health Command laboratories running down two miles of Ricketts Point Road across from Weide Army Airfield, and it will put a gleaming new high-tech face on the U.S. Army’s chemical biological defense research infrastructure. But for this renewal to happen, existing buildings must come down, even during the pandemic. For some of these buildings this is no ordinary demolition.
Buildings that handled chemical agent or biological pathogens have to be sampled for potential residual contamination in hoods, drains, filtration systems, and ductwork. This work is performed by Center crews wearing heavy and hot personal protective equipment. Potentially contaminated buildings remain under continuous negative air pressure filtration during this phase.
In all, this remaking of the research center is expected to cost $507 million over 10 years and will eliminate 43 unused and obsolete buildings. Most of the buildings on the demolition list are more than 50 years old.
Assessing ‘Every Square Foot’
“The first building we removed contaminated equipment and components from prior to demolition was the 50-year-old Amos A. Fries Research Laboratory, building E-3300, also referred to as the Super Toxics Lab,” said Cheryl Kyle, the Center’s program manager for the effort. “CBARR’s specialized skills were required to perform a detailed pre-demolition assessment of every square foot to characterize, decontaminate, remove, and dispose of even the tiniest remnant of chemical agent.”
“While we were able to complete the removal of potentially contaminated equipment from the Fries laboratory before the pandemic, we been keeping up the pace of equipment removal operations in several more legacy buildings on the 3200 block of Ricketts Point Road during the pandemic,” said Kyle. “It added another layer of COVID-19 safety protocols on top of all the safety procedures we already perform. But it did not slow us down, and the renewal of our research campus is staying on track.”
Adapting to Conditions
Due to the COVID-19 safety protocols, the morning meetings were reduced to the number of personnel that could be safely gathered at any one time. The meetings went from 25 operators on any given day to several smaller meetings, with social distancing rules and face coverings. The Center also added more wash stations and hand sanitizers at the work site, and requires operators to make self-assessments prior to work that they reported to supervisors. Close contact is minimized throughout the workday.
“Center’s role in the demolition process is not over once the equipment removal operations are completed,” said Kyle. “Center crews continuously monitor the demolition contractor’s removal of the slabs the buildings rested on to ensure no contamination migrated into or between those slabs over the decades of the building’s operations.”
In addition to near real-time air monitoring and perimeter monitoring during demolition, Center personnel also sample soil and any standing liquid for chemical and biological agent analysis.
Clearing the Way for the Future
Demolishing these buildings quite literally clears a path for the Center’s future. “Carrying on this work during the pandemic is important because it avoids delays in our campus revitalization effort,’ said Research and Technology Director Frederick Cox. “It is a revitalization that will give us a campus infrastructure that is as adaptable at addressing a world of changing threats as our scientists and engineers are.”