Rear Adm. Scott Dillon

Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, right, commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, and Joan Johnson, NAWCWD's executive director, give an update to its workforce at Burroughs High School on Friday.

RIDGECREST — Nearly a thousand people took a seat in the Burroughs High School gymnasium Friday morning to hear an update from Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division’s leadership.

Joan Johnson, the executive director, and Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, NAWCWD’s commander, noted that progress was moving steadily and constantly changing as engineers looked at the 1,011 buildings the tenant command owns. There are more than 1,200 overall facilities on base, including those operated by the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake itself.

“China Lake is not shutting down and NAWCWD isn’t going to be a mere shadow of what it used to be,” Johnson said.

“It has been a very encouraging week,” Dillon said of the ongoing evaluations. “We have determined the significant amount of the 1,000-plus buildings have not been damaged.”

The magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 earthquakes that shook Ridgecrest and Trona on July 4 and July 5 caused widespread damage to a lot of the facilities aboard NAWS China Lake, as the epicenter occurred within its fence line.

“Fundamentally, the fact that we had no injuries and that all of our structures on the base were still standing transformed the task into one big thing where we had to assemble teams who could look at over 1,000 different buildings,” Dillon said.

Since the earthquakes, the installation was deemed “mission not capable” and all non-mission essential personnel were evacuated. Many were afforded the opportunity to evacuate to within 250 miles of Naval Base Ventura County, depending on the individual conditions set by the 23 tenant commands.

“It has been a very encouraging week,” Dillon said of the ongoing evaluations. “We have determined the significant amount of the 1,000-plus buildings have not been damaged.”

Dillon said that 55 buildings were cleared as of Friday morning. The previous morning none had been cleared.

Some buildings, however, did sustain serious structural damage.

“Those buildings will require time and resources to bring back to a fully operational state,” Dillon said.

He said engineers needed to enter the buildings and determine whether they were structurally sound, and then from there determine if they are safe for workers to return.

“That doesn’t happen overnight … but it has been happening very quickly over the past seven days,” he said.

Johnson said the scene inside most of the buildings reflected those in the community: computer monitors and televisions on the floor, along with work materials, damaged lab equipment and so forth.

“We don’t want anyone coming back to work until it’s safe to go back in,” Johnson said. “Our mission is everything, but it doesn’t mean anything if we aren’t OK.”

Johnson said Naval Facilities Engineering Command, along with NAWCWD’s own experts, are methodically going through each of the buildings.

Johnson said many employees have been working remotely or were on travel when the earthquakes hit.

“We’re not down and out from a mission perspective,” Johnson said.

One employee who said she works in McLean Laboratory asked if that building was safe, noting that in the past it felt as if it shifts when walking down a certain section.

Johnson said McLean Lab has been cleared and fared well since it was constructed in 2008. Johnson said there were rumors that McLean Lab had been severely damaged.

Overall, the teams that did the initial assessment and evaluation of the buildings erred on the conservative side in terms of being structurally sound.

Dillon said the workforce would be allowed to return in phased steps. As buildings are cleared for re-entry, supervisors will contact their employees to tell them to report to work.

When asked how those workers recalled to work will be able to enter through the gates due to the current “mission essential” limitations, Dillon said being recalled means the employees are considered essential to NAWWD’s mission.

“It is the responsibility of individual tenant commands to determine which personnel are mission essential,” he said.

A representative from NAWS China Lake confirmed child care for mission essential personnel would be available.

During a tour of NAWS China Lake’s main side on Tuesday, Capt. Paul Dale, China Lake’s commanding officer, told media that the child development was up and running, while its teen center had temporarily been relocated to the Rec Stop.

Johnson added that as buildings are being evaluated, NAWCWD may also consider alternative locations in Ridgecrest to lease.

“We’re working that through our contracts process,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be very creative so people can get back to work and being productive… We are doing this the China Lake way — we will come back stronger and better.”

Both Johnson and Dillon stressed that information changes as evaluation and inspection teams learn new data.

In addition, NAWCWD is developing a guidebook on future earthquake preparedness, protocol for returning to the workplace and other scenarios.

(1) comment

Al Sharptons Hair

I don't believe a word they say and command leadership needs to be relived for those that are competent and can get things done. Our commander in chief would be greatly disappointed. No wonder why our ships are smashing into one another.

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