NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Discussions of “COVID-free bubbles” on Navy assets have been increasing in the past several weeks, including USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75), which will be arriving at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) next month for maintenance following an extended deployment. Believing such a bubble could be established on land as well as at sea, Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson directed an unprecedented effort to make all of NNSY a safe bubble within the first month of COVID-19 concerns gripping the Navy and nation.
Supporting its priorities of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 while maximizing the mission serving the U.S. Navy, NNSY was the first of the nation’s four public shipyards and first installation in the Mid-Atlantic Region to implement an enhanced screening process. Torkelson assigned Deputy Shipyard Commander, Captain Dan Rossler, to spearhead this innovative effort in early April, which first began with spot checks and ship screenings in the shipyard with full implementation at the installation gates two weeks later.
Protecting the safety and health of thousands of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) civilians, military and contractors coming on the installation daily takes a lot of dedication and effort. Helping achieve that is a team of approximately 50 personnel from across NNSY’s military and civilian workforce, along with USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Sailors. These members conduct daily temperature scannings, confirm compliance with employee self-screenings for COVID-19 symptoms and risks, and ensure personnel report to work with face masks.
Just as a typical prototype undergoes incremental improvements following study and testing, NNSY’s screening process has implemented a number of enhancements in the past two months thanks to a spirit of teamwork and pursuit of innovation. These include screeners using more accurate thermometers, the shipyard duty office providing real-time gate traffic updates for employees registered on the AtHoc notification system, and a daily self-screening mobile app set up by NNSY’s Nuclear Corporate Training Initiatives Division (Code 2360). With this app, employees can complete online screening at home, then show screeners the green checkmark on their smartphones prior to having their temperature taken to enter the shipyard.
In a demonstration of the ownership NNSY employees frequently exhibit, civilian volunteers offered to protect their shipyard and fellow teammates on their own time. One of the civilian screeners, John Frisch of the Engineering and Planning Department (Organization and Employee Development), volunteered after experiencing wait times to enter NNSY and feeling he could support. Frisch had previous experience on shipyard gate duty, working security detail when assigned to the NNSY Marine Barracks back in the late 1970s. “The hours make for a long day, but the experience has been very rewarding,” he said. “I wear my hardhat so people know I am one of them. They respect the job I am doing, many of them say ‘thank you.’ Several have mentioned they feel Norfolk Naval Shipyard really cares about keeping everyone working here safe! Also, the Navy personnel I have been working with at Gate 10 really treat me as part of the team.”
Todd Howard, another civilian volunteer from the Engineering and Planning Department (Material Logistics), said it’s an opportunity for him to give back and interact with other members of the NNSY workforce—even from behind a mask. “I’m always looking for an opportunity to help others, and in this case, serve our great shipyard,” he said. “The experience has been rewarding, in that, what I’m doing is helping get people into the shipyard and to their jobs safely, with respect, and a smile that’s hidden behind a mask. The people have been great, and for some, it is a challenge and extremely rewarding to get a little smile out of them. To be honest, it really isn’t that much of a sacrifice. I’m a morning person anyway, so I come in a little earlier than normal and I’m still able to be productive on my regular job.”
Electronics Technician (Nuclear) Senior Chief Roy Vanterpool, who has been leading the effort of training screeners, said volunteers are encouraged to join the team supporting a healthy workforce in America’s Shipyard. “New screeners are always welcomed!” he said. “I believe it is all hands on deck, both military and civilian, to help ensure the safety of everyone who comes onboard NNSY. Even though the current screeners are doing an outstanding, professional job at the task they were given, any new screeners will be gladly accepted and trained to help with the effort.”
Discussing the importance of undertaking this significant effort, Torkelson said, “Norfolk Naval Shipyard wanted to set the standard for making our installation one of the safest places to work in all of Hampton Roads and across the Navy Mid-Atlantic Region. It’s that important for the crucial mission we execute—taking any less of a measure in ensuring command and personal safety would be not completely executing that mission. I’m proud of everyone’s ongoing efforts in America’s Shipyard as we continue to minimize the spread while maximizing our mission.”