September 1, 2020 – Communication is key during an emergency situation. Emergency responders rely on their tools to keep an open line between one another from the pier or drydock to the inner workings of the vessels stationed at the waterfront, allowing information to be relayed as the situation continues to develop. To ensure a strong radio frequency signal was deployed throughout the USS San Francisco (SSN 711), a team of individuals at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) banded together to develop and implement a Yagi Passive Antenna System onboard the submarine.
“The Yagi Passive Antenna System is a receiver and transmitter used to extend a radio frequency signal,” said Electrical Engineering Division (Code 275) Electrical Engineering Technician Aaron Taylor. “The purpose of it is to boost the signal of Enterprise Land Mobile Radios (ELMR) used by first responders during an incident inside a submarine. Before we utilized this new system, the fire department had to deploy their own antenna system from their first responder vehicles down the hatch of the ships during an emergency to be able to communicate from inside the ship to the pier. This system, now installed on the San Francisco Project, will take care of that communication step which could sometimes be forgotten in an emergency. It will ensure clear communication remains a priority throughout the vessel.”
The implementation of this system first began when a new fire safety requirement was put into effect, requiring the use of a specific type of radio in the deployment of situational response. This work had never been done at NNSY previously. As the radios could not be utilized as designed due to interference onboard the vessel, a team began working on a solution to meet the needs of the San Francisco Project.
“Code 275 took the lead in designing the system based on information provided to us by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Immediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS&IMF),” said Taylor. “Collaborating with PSNS allowed us to realize and overcome some difficulties and lessons learned in testing and troubleshooting once the system was installed. We developed technical drawings to fabricate the system components, developed TWDs [Technical Work Documents] and ordered material to fabricate, install, and test the antenna systems.”
Once the designs were finalized, the Electronics Shop (Code 950, Shop 67) began fabricating the system per Taylor’s drafted designs. As it was a first for the shipyard, the team quickly worked to troubleshoot as needed when they discovered that the system was not developing how they intended.
“This job taught us to be ready to adapt,” said Shop 67 Electronics Mechanic Anthony Qualtieri. “Once we got the drawings and began working the original design, we drilled the box and started to work on the cables. We found that the design wasn’t working out and we were hitting a roadblock. Things don’t always work out when you put it into practice so we took a step back and began coming up with suggestions on how to overcome this obstacle.”
“It was a brand new job to tackle and we wanted to make sure everything was done as best as it could be,” said Shop 67 Supervisor Lou Scala.
Taylor added, “The team passed on their suggestions for how to modify the system without compromising the design intent and functionality. I got to work adjusting the designs and we tried our hand at fabrication again. Together, we were able to come up with the best system to benefit the vessel.”
In addition to the adjustments needed to the design, the team found another roadblock – COVID-19. “The job came at the height of everything so we were already working with only a few folks on the project at a time,” said Scala. “It took a lot of coordination and phone calls to ensure things continued to be on track – yet we weren’t discouraged. We rolled with it and worked together to get the job done.”
Taylor said, “I was teleworking and Shop 67 was working second shift at the time to minimize the amount of bodies in their spaces. We had constant communication set up so that I could do what I needed to for the team from home. If they had any questions, they knew I was available to help, even if I wasn’t directly at the shipyard. Whatever challenges arose – we rose to meet them head-on.”
Qualtieri added, “Once Shop 67 finished fabricating the new system and began installing it on the San Francisco, testing went smoothly. We were able to do the legwork during the later shifts, which meant less traffic throughout the vessel. This also gave us more ability to work directly with ship’s forces to make sure they understood the new system as a whole.”
The San Francisco now has five antenna systems installed on the vessel. Scala noted that this is due to the fluid teamwork and dedication of those involved. “Even with everything thrown at us, Shop 67 and Code 275 worked hard to ensure the system was ready to go. And with ship’s force, the scaffolding team (Shop 89), and the engraving shop providing us assistance, we got it done!”
“It was something exciting for us to tackle,” said Qualtieri. “I have a background as a firefighter so this was a project that was very important for me to be part of. It was something new for the shipyard that would help make a difference for ship’s force and the emergency responders. It brought a lot of excitement to the team and I look forward to tackling the next system.”