When the Navy urgently needed a deployable biocontainment system to protect medical professionals processing COVID-19 testing kits, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, knew just who to call on.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility received a request from NAVSEA to develop a prototype biocontainment system. In response, Shop 64, Sail Loft, and Code 2370.27, Refueling Containments Branch, worked together to design and build two prototypes within a few days.
“We bought a number of BioFire test kits for our ships, but they were missing a critical containment hood needed to operate the system, which couldn’t be shipped for four to six weeks,” Moore said.
“We sent a drawing of the containment hood to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & IMF, and in less than a week they had made two prototypes. We’re testing the second version now and we’ve already asked them to produce 30 more."
Biocontainment systems are needed to safely test biological samples. Although the Navy received the COVID-19 testing kits it requested, biocontainment systems are not yet readily available.
“These kits are needed quickly so that ships are able to deploy sooner than later,” said Jason Beller, trade superintendent for Shop 64. “The medical hoods used in normal testing environments are not readily available because of the national high demand due to COVID-19.”
According to Beller, the biocontainment systems are boxes made from clear plastic sheeting with pass-through gloves attached, a sealable opening to place samples in, and a negative-pressure air-handling system that ensures any air leaving the containment area is filtered. Medical professionals can place testing kits and samples in the boxes and test for COVID-19 while the tester and the area around them are protected from the virus.
A prototype underwent ship checks in San Diego. Since then the design has been finalized and PSNS & IMF production teams are moving forward with the final assembly of 30 units. The first 10 are expected to ship out to the fleet by Friday.
PSNS & IMF Technology Insertion Manager Jeff Brimhall worked closely with Kevin Schilling, Strategic Innovation manager, NAVSEA 04X3, Industrial Process Innovation Division, to quickly define the requirements and move the prototyping effort forward. Given the complexity of the “simple box,” expertise from around PSNS &IMF was leveraged.
“Shop 64, Sail Loft, manufactured the biocontainment systems,” said Beller. “Shop 57, Piping Insulators, and Shop 99, Temporary Services, supported the negative ventilation portion of the system, and several other codes assisted as well.”
"I am exceptionally proud of NAVSEA’s response to COVID-19 and how our shipyards have worked tirelessly to keep our people safe," Moore said. "When I sent them a note of thanks, one of their workforce wrote back saying ‘Thanks, Admiral; that’s what we do.’ This is just a great, selfless and humble team. This is what ‘right’ looks like.”
Capt. Dianna Wolfson, commander of PSNS & IMF, also expressed pride in the teams' achievement. "The development of biocontainment systems was so innovative, important and timely, that we got a note of thanks from the Chief of Naval Operations this week...a great reminder to all of us about what a difference our efforts are making.
"Thank you for your hard work, commitment and sense of urgency," Wolfson told the team. "Our Navy needs us. Please keep it up. Let's continue to minimize the spread so we can maximize the mission."