JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- As the nation has been in the throes of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for most of 2020, the team at Public Works Department (PWD) New Orleans developed ways to ensure social distancing did not get in the way of progress on one of their major construction projects.
“Unfortunately we have seen many businesses and industries come to a screeching halt,” said Lt. j.g. Kevin Freedman, PWD New Orleans construction manager. “Our team has been fortunate to remain steadfast while supporting efforts in constructing, repairing, operating and maintaining the infrastructure here at Naval Air Base Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) New Orleans.”
To keep projects on schedule, personnel have had to be innovative and creative with developing new processes to keep projects on track. Fortunately, the entire team at Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast has the ability to rapidly enact organization change to overcome the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, at PWD New Orleans, the team is working on a new military construction project (MILCON) for the Joint Reserve Intelligence Center (JRIC) New Orleans that provides an addition to a building that will enable military intelligence professionals to conduct training and intelligence production in support of their worldwide mission.
“The entire project team faces many challenges with this project as the JRIC facility has access limitations,” said Freedman. “We have had to come up with alternate ways to conduct team meetings and taking photographs due to security and social distancing.”
COVID-19 presents serious challenges during a time when in-person team meetings are greatly discouraged and photography may be limited due to staffing, security or access; thus making collaboration and necessary documentation more difficult.
“With less frequent meetings on site, the team is required to prepare narratives and descriptions of completed work, answer requests for information, and has required technical submittals to be more in depth and reviewed with enough scrutiny to ensure all documentation was accurate and objective,” said Freedman.
Previously, documentation handling was completed in the more traditional style, email submission became the prominent platform in this case, systems such as the Electronic Construction Management System (ECMS) could prove to be invaluable in situations like this and will enable better collaboration among the teams in the near future.
NAVFAC is currently testing ECMS as a collaborative tool and hopes to roll it out later this year to the entire team.
“Essentially it is going to be a fully integrated online construction management tool so everything is all in one system. It will allow for enhanced communication with the contractor and government team members and has all the relevant documents in one place,” said Freedman. “This will definitely make collaboration easier.”
During the pandemic, the team was able to provide work arounds to the traditional communication methods such as emailing documents and getting hard copies in the mail. The team is hopeful that the communication limitations they faced will be resolved through innovations such as ECMS.
“Another challenge the team faces is providing escorts for contractors,” said Freedman.
The combination of military and contractor personnel, often times in small spaces, severely hampers the ability to follow CDC guidelines on the jobsite during COVID-19. To combat the increased risk of exposure, the PWD and contractor came up with a plan to stagger work schedules while increased telework continues for both the military and contractor staff.
“Before COVID-19, the team could just show up on the job site and check on progress,” said Freedman. “Now, everything has to be coordinated to ensure the safety of all parties working on the project and to ensure the right people are at the right place, at the right time, to accomplish the task.”
NAVFAC Southeast’s continuous innovation and ability to adapt to change has allowed the team to be more flexible and adaptive, ensuring projects and missions continue.
“Many of the changes that have now been commonplace for months will likely be instituted as standard operating procedure for the foreseeable future,” said NAS JRB New Orleans Public Works Officer Cmdr. Lawrence Hall. “I am proud of the way the entire team has been so flexible and has adapted to the changes required to keep everyone safe while accomplishing the mission.”
NAVFAC Southeast has shown how resilient they can be which has put them in a better position to continue to provide state-of-the-art services to the Navy, Marine Corps and Department of Defense enterprise for decades to come.