Emergency Design-Build Alternate Care Facility for COVID-19 Patients on St. Croix
In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a high percentage of projects are “off the beaten path” and are considered remote locations. This aspect adds to the challenge of getting equipment and personnel to the job site. Many projects involve setting up a temporary or long-term living quarters for the personnel which requires lodging, food, sanitation, transportation, and preparation for emergencies.
An additional concern in these locations is the potential for natural disasters, including tropical storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes. It is no secret the Caribbean has fallen prey to several intense hurricanes in the few years which has left the local territories struggling to rebuild their infrastructure. In addition, there have been several Earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Preparation for a remote project is complex and all possible scenarios should be considered.
Adding to these challenges is the COVID-19 pandemic which can potentially contribute to bottlenecks in the supply chain, the need for enhanced health and safety measures for personnel, and additional challenges, and costs, resulting from local regulations enacted to contain the virus.
MFS provided services for a COVID-19 Alternate Care Facility at the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard Regional Training Institute (VING RTI). The project, converting army barracks on St. Croix into a 46-bed care center, was proposed in anticipation of the high number of patients who could potentially require hospitalization from the COVID-19 disease.
The construction took place during the end of April and beginning of May 2020 while many areas of the Caribbean were heavily affected by the global health crisis. Before and during construction, the project team faced a variety of challenges including demanding timetables, finding ways to work around regional curfew hours, lockdown procedures, strict material specifications and scarcity, and limitations to mobility and access related to the pandemic.
MFS was able to overcome huge obstacles by utilizing our large network of experienced personnel, vendors, and subcontractors across the Caribbean region, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the Southeast United States. Strong communications channels, and some unconventional solutions, kept the project schedule on track despite complications resulting from the Coronavirus crisis.
Working with the local government MFS was able to obtain special permission to mobilize during the lockdown and was exempted from curfew hours. While this was helpful there were still additional obstacles to overcome. The local suppliers were affected by lockdown restrictions and met with additional limitations within their supply chain. The result of these constraints meant that the purchasing of materials required flawless coordination and communication between every party involved. To ensure project’s successful and timely execution, the management team established a daily videophone conference to brief the entire team and share concerns, ideas, and solutions. A more informal method of constant communication was also implemented through WhatsApp, an instant messaging freeware application. A general chat provided constant project progress, and sub-chats for specific situations and team members were also developed during the three-week project as needed. Essentially, every piece of information relayed to the daily videophone meeting, to ensure that no duplicity, nor loss of resources, happened.
MFS strategically placed and transported personnel to St. Croix, while altogether maintaining key individuals in Puerto Rico, well experienced with local vendors and suppliers’ modus. The deep relationships between MFS and these vendors proved of utmost importance to speed up outreach and specific material acquisition. Another team was also assigned to manage material that required purchase and transportation originating from mainland United States.
Meeting strict material specifications required the communication network, previously described, to be constantly attentive and communicate updates in real time. Any miscommunication could mean loss of time and material, therefore project delays and substantial damages. Team members where required to create shop drawings, sketches and detailed notes, which were provided to vendors; existing material data sheets were carefully studied and extensively discussed with vendors and suppliers; and extreme attention to details and progress had to be enforced from everybody on the team.
The management team was not the only group which encountered extreme difficulties. MFS’ own labor force was mobilized, which included foremen, carpenters, masonry and drywall workers, electricians, mechanics and plumbers, among others. Workers were met with fatigue and an extraordinarily demanding timetable for deliveries. Management and field coordination personnel had the responsibility of ensuring workers’ safety and devised a plan that allowed for rotational shifts and support when being held accountable and delivering for the client’s deadlines.
Transporting personnel and material on such tight timeframe required both air and sea transportation, between Puerto Rico and St. Croix. Existing relationships between MFS and the transportation enterprises proved their value when costs and availability came into play. Additional health protocols had to be developed to prevent any contagion during the project’s development, including PPE, testing, and quarantining procedures.
Due to the emergency nature of the work, the MFS team was required to work extensive overtime hours, provide cross-support, and demonstrate teamwork and determination.
With the help of our vendors and dedicated staff, the project was executed efficiently, cost-effectively, and in a record time of three weeks, earning the praise of the United States Army Corp. of Engineers (USACE) Savannah District for the quick and thorough deliverance of the Alternate Care Facility.