‘We are coming back even stronger’

NAWCWD civilian, military leaders give optimistic report following quakes

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘We are coming back even stronger’“We are in a very positive mood today,” Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Commander Rear Adm. Scott Dillon told some 500 who gathered to hear an update after last week’s 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes rendered their host at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake “non mission operable.”

“I hesitate to describe this as a good week, but it has undoubtedly been an encouraging week.”

Dillon and NAWCWD Executive Director Joan Johnson gave a rundown of the ongoing assessment of damage.

“We avoided serious injury,” said Dillon. “That allowed us to quickly turn our attention to the task of reconstitution.”

“It’s so comforting to see familiar faces,” said Johnson. “I’m proud to be a part of this community and proud of everyone here.”

Of some 1,300 buildings at NAWS, NAWCWD occupies upward of 1,100. Dillon said that all structures appear to be standing, however he cautioned employees that the process of ensuring all are structurally sound will not happen overnight.

While most buildings have not sustained serious damage, he said, officials are in the beginning stages of clearing structures as safe and sound to enter. However, he noted that in one day 55 buildings were “white tagged,” which marks them as safe to enter.

Johnson said that most of the damage to some 4,000 offices and labs assessed so far is related to the contents, not the structures.

NAWS is still operating with “essential personnel,” and those deemed necessary for the mission are notified by their supervisors. Johnson and Dillon noted that some employees have returned to work remotely, and many are expected to report to work as early as Monday once their buildings have been cleared for occupancy.

“We are not down and out from a mission perspective,” said Johnson, who added that leaders are also considering “swing space” to house employees on a temporary basis while more serious damages are addressed.

“We are going to be creative so that people can get back to a safe environment and be productive.”

In the mean time, assessments will continue and leaders will keep working with local, county, state and federal elected officials and agencies to report damages and coordinate reimbursements.

The pair also fielded questions from the audience, many of which referenced unofficial damage reports circulating.

“When you don’t have information, it’s human nature to fill in the gaps,” said Johnson. It’s easier to assume the worst so you’re not off guard by disappointment.

“But we are not shutting down, and we are not going to be a shadow of what we used to be. “We are doing this the China Lake way — coming back stronger and better.”

Dillon said the fact that they don’t have more detail about specific facilities is encouraging, because it means that assessments and determinations are progressing rapidly.

For other questions, Dillon and Johnson noted that leadership — with the input from other essential personnel — are working on a comprehensive guidebook that will address future earthquake preparedness, protocol for returning to work and other unknowns.

During a tele-town hall on July 16, Rear Adm. Dillon gave listeners an update, noting that efforts to bring back employees and evaluate damages are “accelerating by the day.”

Some 4,000 local employees are expected to be back to work in undamaged or alternate spaces by July 22.

“As we bring people back, we are also hard at work identifying spaces more heavily damaged,” said Dillon. “Those are in the minority, but there are some.”

Base leadership is still coming up with contingency plans for people who occupy those spaces, and operate special equipment, to return to work.

Story First Published: 2019-07-12