Tech Center Fire: "We Got a Lucky Break"
Thursday, June 28, 2012
More than 1,600 workers at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor, N.J., got quite a scare last Friday after several explosions and fires forced a full evacuation of the facility. But a NATCA member says that considering the seriousness of the fire, "we got a lucky break, no doubt about it," as it pertains to any long-term impact on the important projects being developed and tested there.
Joe Yannone is a NATCA member at the tech center, which serves as the scientific testing hub for the Agency, where NextGen, TAMR and other Article 48 projects are developed. He, along with all 10 additional NATCA members at the facility, works at the building adjacent to the one that caught fire, and said there was a lot of confusion after the incident.
He said the fire lasted throughout the day after a propane tank that was being used in a roof renovation project exploded. Yannone, along with fellow NATCA member Tony Nappi, said that communication was poor and they didn’t really know what was going on in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
Yannone said the data systems went out after the three explosions on the roof, which caused operations at nearby Atlantic City International Airport to cease for a short time. According to news reports and the FAA’s Web site, there were over 600 flight delays as a result of either the explosion or the violent thunderstorms that came through the Northeast later that day.
Nappi said he feels lucky that there doesn't seem to be any long-term damage to any Article 48 projects. He said the fire looked terrible from the outset, but the worst part of the day may have been the mass confusion that occurred afterward.
“I saw the smoke billowing, and at first I thought an aircraft or something went down on the building; that’s how bad it looked,” he said. “But our LAN lines went down, TV, everything, so we really didn’t know what was happening.”
He said they were never in any physical danger, but he wished they had a better sense of what was happening in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
“There was no real need for us to leave other than the computers went down, however that should not have excluded us from communicating what occurred, and more importantly, receiving instructions on what to do, particularly in light of the emergency situation which was occurring,” Nappi said.
Going forward, however, Nappi’s work area will get a little more crowded. Nearly 230 workers from the damaged building are being relocated throughout the tech center, and three people will be joining his workspace.
He added that, while it appears the facility caught a break of sorts, it is important to learn from this so that the Article 48 work done there isn’t put at risk by another incident. He added that there still could be some reports of damage as the inventory continues in the coming weeks.
“There’s still some determination left as to what impact this will have on the major programs, since so many people are being moved around,” Nappi said. “But to have an explosion like that, where nobody gets hurt and you also aren’t saying ‘well now we have a major impact, setting back these entire projects,’ we got a lucky break, no doubt about it.”