The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport, has begun a partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) to help Alaska prepare for a possible surge in cases of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) was established in April between NUWC Keyport and UAF to assist with development of the support equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary in the event of a major outbreak of the coronavirus in the state of Alaska.
Dr. Aaron Darnton, NUWC Keyport’s Chief Technology Officer, said the skills possessed by the Washington State-based warfare center offered a unique resource for UAF. Darnton said leveraging these skills in this new partnership is important because Alaska has limited health care resources, especially in rural and remote communities, and disruptions to supply lines due to coronavirus have already been a challenge.
“Keyport has a fairly unique skill set in reverse engineering equipment no longer supported by industry,” Darnton said. “That's a perfect parallel to the current case where UAF wants to develop organic production capability outside the traditional supply sources. We can lend that experience, along with our current experiences responding to COVID-19 needs, to help Alaska be prepared in case they see a surge of the virus.”
The connection between NUWC Division, Keyport and UAF was facilitated by the work of the Northwest Tech Bridge, which is part of the effort by the NavalX office to remove barriers and speed collaboration between the Navy and new or non-traditional partners.
Johannes Schonberg, NUWC Division, Keyport’s Director of Engagement, said the CRADA resulted from Northwest Tech Bridge functioning as envisioned by NavalX. Schonberg said UAF originally contacted the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and ONR circled back to NUWC Division, Keyport as a prime partner for UAF.
“Our support to the community through our Technology Transfer authorities meant that NUWC Division, Keyport can be a leader among the warfare centers in repair power, air-purifying respirators, also called ‘PAPR,’ equipment,” Schonberg said. “This is what the Tech Bridges were created to do, cut through red tape to quickly initiate partnerships between the Navy and potential civilian partners.”
Alaska has only had 355 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the end of April according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. UAF researchers, fearing a significant spike in infections, sought to get ahead of the potential problem by finding partners who could help them increase the state’s level of preparedness.
“Alaska is potentially very vulnerable to an outbreak,” said Gwen Holdmann, Director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power. “There are only 200 ICU beds in the entire state, and many communities in rural Alaska have none. We have limited access to ventilators, and we also are at the end of supply lines so we have the same issue with PPE availability as everywhere else.”
Holdmann said UAF is trying to be responsive to the needs of Alaska’s medical and first responder community.
“The CRADA with Keyport will allow us to work closely with their engineers and scientists to develop optimal approaches to solving local problems,” said Holdmann. “It will ensure we have access to best practices and the most current information related to COVID-19 response efforts, and potentially access fabrication capabilities if needed. Keyport's efforts in forming broader, multi-university and multi-researcher working groups tasked with solving specific problems is also something we hope to participate in.”
Darnton said the process to establish the CRADA went swiftly and both NUWC Keyport and UAF are moving forward.
“We're already started and running full speed ahead. We were able to get the CRADA developed and signed in a matter of days due to the high-level support within each organization for supporting this collaboration.”
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