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National Research Council (US) Committee on Prudent Practices in the Laboratory. Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards: Updated Version. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.

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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards: Updated Version.

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3Emergency Planning

3.A. INTRODUCTION

Although most laboratory personnel are prepared to handle incidental spills or minor chemical exposures, many other types of emergencies can affect a laboratory, ranging from power outages to floods or intentional malicious acts. Some may have long-term consequences and may severely affect the continuity of laboratory operations. Although these issues must be considered on an organizational level, laboratory personnel should be trained in how to respond to large-scale emergencies. Laboratory security can play a role in reducing the likelihood of some emergencies and assisting in preparation and response for others. (For more information about laboratory security, see Chapter 10.)

There are four major phases to managing an emergency: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

The mitigation phase includes efforts to minimize the likelihood that an incident will occur and to limit the effects of an incident that does occur. Mitigation efforts may be procedural, such as safe storage of materials, or physical, such as a sprinkler system.

The preparedness phase is the process of developing plans for managing an emergency and taking action to ensure that the laboratory is ready to handle an emergency. This phase might include ensuring that adequate supplies are available, training personnel, and preparing a communication plan.

The response phase involves efforts to manage the emergency as it occurs and may include outside responders as well as laboratory staff. The response is more effective and efficient when those involved in it understand their roles, have the training to perform their duties, and have the supplies they need on hand.

The recovery phase encompasses the actions taken to restore the laboratory and affected areas to a point where the functions of the laboratory can be carried out safely. Usually, these actions restore the laboratory to its previous condition; however, this stage provides an opportunity for improvement.

The four phases are interconnected. Effective mitigation efforts reduce the impact of the emergency and ease the response and recovery stages. Lessons learned during an emergency may lead to further mitigation and preparedness efforts during the recovery phase. Good planning in the preparedness stage makes the response and recovery less complicated. However, a plan is not a substitute for thinking. It offers guidance and helps prepare for emergencies. It is not intended to replace analyzing the situation and formulating the best response based on the resources and situation at hand.

3.B. PREPLANNING

Every institution, department, and individual laboratory should have an emergency preparedness plan. The level of detail of the plan will vary depending on the function of the group and institutional planning efforts already in place.

Planning proceeds in several steps. First, determine what types of incidents are most likely to occur to determine the type and magnitude of planning required. This will require input from multiple levels of the organization, and discussions with laboratory personnel should be integral to the process. Next, decide who the decision makers and stakeholders are and how to handle communications. Then, do the actual plan for the types of emergencies identified in the first step. Finally, train staff in the procedures outlined in the plan.

Emergency planning is a dynamic process. As personnel, operations, and events change, plans need updating and modification.

It is not possible to account for every emergency. When handling an emergency, do not use the plan as a recipe; use it as a list of ingredients and guidance.

3.B.1. Vulnerability Assessment

To determine the type and level of emergency planning needed, laboratory personnel need to perform a vulnerability assessment. What kinds of emergencies are most likely? What is the possible effect on laboratory operations?

For every potential emergency, the group should consider the history of occurrence in their laboratory or institution and at institutions with similar circumstances. The group should evaluate how the emergency would affect the laboratory, for example, damage to critical equipment, staffing limitations, loss of data, and the severity of the resulting conditions on laboratory operations. Making a list of available emergency response equipment and the location of that equipment assists in this task.

When planning, especially when determining where to spend time and resources, use impact/occurrence mapping (Figure 3.1). Where time and/or resources are limited, focus attention on events that would have higher impact and higher likelihood, and less attention on issues that are unlikely to occur or would have little impact.

A quadrant map with likelihood increasing to the right on the x-axis and impact increasing vertically on the y-axis. Moving clockwise from the upper left, the quadrants read fihigh impact low likelihoodfl, fihigh impact, high likelihoodfl, filow impact high likelihoodfl, and filow impact, low likelihoodfl.

FIGURE 3.1

Impact/Likelihood of occurrence mapping.

The types of incidents and emergencies to consider vary depending on the type of laboratory, geographical location, and other factors that are unique to an institution or laboratory. The following sections cover most common issues faced in laboratories.

3.B.1.1. Fire

A fire could occur in any laboratory but is more likely where chemicals such as flammable liquids, oxidizers, and pyrophoric compounds are stored and used. Consider the amount of combustible materials in the laboratory, potential ignition sources, and any other factors that increase the potential for fire. Some equipment is vulnerable even to minor smoke damage, such as laser optics, and plates used for semiconductor work.

Assess the impact of a fire. Does the laboratory contain mission-critical equipment that could be damaged by fire or smoke? Are there smoke detectors in place? Are there detectors for hazardous vapors and gas? Is there a sprinkler system or other automatic extinguishing system? Are the correct type and number of fire extinguishers present and do people know how to use them? If possible, fire extinguisher training should involve practice putting out fires.

3.B.1.2. Flood

Floods could be due to rain, rising levels of bodies of water, water pipe breaks, or accidental or deliberate acts. Some areas are more prone to floods than others. Laboratories on the basement or ground level are more likely to be flooded in a storm than those on higher floors. Safety showers and eyewash stations that are not properly plumbed or do not have floor drains nearby may also be a source of flooding. Consider the likelihood of flooding and its impact. Also consider whether the laboratory contains equipment that is very sensitive to water damage. If flooding occurs, could it affect the space below the flood? If so, is the floor sealed appropriately? Are there overhead pipes?

3.B.1.3. Severe Weather

Storms and flooding can disrupt power, cause damage to buildings, and result in impassable roads. In severe cases, a local state of emergency in response to weather could close roads to all but essential travel. In areas that are prone to tornadoes or hurricanes, consideration should be given to the adequate protection of critical hazardous operations. For example, in some areas, hydrogen cylinders and liquid nitrogen tanks are located outside the building. It may be sensible in some areas to locate lab space away from outside windows.

If there are travel restrictions, would anyone be able to reach the laboratory? If so, is there a means of communication to inform the individual(s) able to travel that they need to do so? Are there operations that run unattended? What possible problems could arise if no one is able to come to the laboratory for a day, a few days, or longer? Have rally points been identified and shelter-in-place protocols distributed in areas where tornadoes occur?

3.B.1.4. Seismic Activity

Laboratories in areas where seismic activity is common should take special precautions to secure and restrain equipment and chemicals within a laboratory. Consideration should be given to the damage that could be caused by falling equipment. An earthquake can render a building unusable for days or months or cause it to be condemned. Note that the earthquake may cause secondary hazards such as gas leaks, fires, chemical spills, electrical hazards, broken glass, reduced structural integrity of buildings, and flooding from broken water pipes.

Is all freestanding equipment that may shift or fall during an earthquake secured appropriately? Are plumbed connections to that equipment, including gas and water lines, flexible to allow for movement? Are items stored on open shelves appropriately organized (e.g., heavier items below, appropriate lips on the shelving, restraints where necessary)? If multiple containers fall and are damaged during a quake, is there potential for incompatible chemicals to come in contact? Are all compressed gas cylinders secured in accordance with the guidance in Chapter 5, section 5.E.6? Also consider the likelihood of other sensitive equipment, such as computers and analytical equipment, falling to the ground. If possible, secure those items to the desk or benchtop. How will continuity of operations be maintained in the event that the laboratory is inaccessible for a significant period of time?

3.B.1.5. Extensive Absences Due to Illness

Although pandemic planning is something that all institutions should complete, other circumstances, such as foodborne illnesses or communicable diseases could result in a large percentage of laboratory personnel unable to come to the laboratory for a short or extended period.

Some experts have estimated that in the event of pandemic influenza, an institution or laboratory may experience a 50% reduction in workforce for a period of 4 to 8 weeks. How might this affect laboratory operations? Are there experiments that cannot be suspended? Have laboratory personnel been cross-trained to be able to fill in for a person who is absent?

3.B.1.6. Hazardous Material Spill or Release

Incidental spills may happen at any time. Most are easily managed by laboratory personnel. Are there large stores of chemicals in the laboratory or building? What are the most hazardous materials and what are the consequences of a release of those materials? Does the laboratory have sufficient spill control materials to handle any spill?

Some spills may be too large or too hazardous for laboratory personnel to clean up safely. What plans are in place in the event assistance is needed?

Consider the likelihood of an environmental release to the ground, air, or sewer. What procedures are in place to report such an incident and remediate it?

Are there unusually hazardous gases or materials that should be continuously monitored to detect a spill or leak? If such monitoring is in place, does it sound an alarm or send a signal? Where does that signal go (e.g., to security personnel, local only)? Are staff fully trained in how to respond and who to contact?

3.B.1.7. High-Profile Visitors

Visiting dignitaries and other individuals with some level of fame or notoriety can attract negative attention from protesters, paparazzi, and others who want to make their opinion known. In some cases, acts of civil disobedience may occur that impede access to the building and interrupt operations. Consider the security risks and how your institution handles such matters.

3.B.1.8. Political or Controversial Researchers or Research

Certain types of research and outspoken researchers with controversial views may engender protests, hate mail, and other concerns. There is the possibility that protestors may engage in civil disobedience in response. The vulnerabilities may vary from nuisance issues to more serious matters. Consider the level of security in and around the lab, mail handling, and other factors. Ensure procedures are in place to deal with these situations effectively, such as screening of incoming mail with irradiation procedures if deemed necessary.

3.B.1.9. Intentional Acts of Violence or Theft

Planning for and preventing intentional acts (including theft, sabotage, or terrorism) are difficult, especially if they are conducted by individuals within the laboratory or organization. The scale of the event will determine the extent of the disruption for a laboratory. If the act only affects one experiment or material, disruption will likely be minimal. However, acts of violence or theft that target a laboratory or building could cause significant disruption of laboratory operations. High-profile, destructive acts of terrorism can also have an effect on laboratory operations, even if they occur in another locale. In such cases, lockdowns of buildings, instructions to shelter in place or to evacuate, and simple distraction of laboratory personnel from their work can affect the laboratory environment. Any activity that causes significant damage to a building, such as an explosion, can have an effect similar to that of seismic activity.

Consider the history of such events at the institution, at similar institutions, and in the geographical area. Is there a known cause for concern? Are laboratory personnel prepared and trained in case of a shelter-in-place emergency? Are all emergency contact numbers posted in a high-visibility area? Has a rally or gather point been designated in case of evacuation of the laboratory?

3.B.1.10. Loss of Laboratory Materials or Equipment

Equipment, chemicals, samples, or other materials in the laboratory could be lost due to theft, sabotage, fire, flood, or other events. Think about the materials and equipment in the laboratory and consider the impact of their loss.

Planning for loss of such equipment is prudent. Keep purchasing and other records that would be helpful for an insurance claim. If equipment can be replaced, make note of where to find that equipment and the specifications needed. For custom-made equipment, keep the plans that show how to rebuild it.

Even with good planning, several days or longer may elapse before equipment is in place or usable. Make note of other laboratories or institutions with similar equipment or functions. Make arrangements, if possible, to use such facilities as a backup, if needed.

3.B.1.11. Loss of Data or Computer Systems

Because many laboratories store data in a digital format and rely on computerized systems, loss of critical data or systems poses serious problems.

Every laboratory and all laboratory personnel should have a backup plan for their digital data. A plan may include the following items:

  • Data that should be stored off-site or in special storage and how to back this up using USB drives, external hard drives, or other external storage device;
  • Whether networked computers are backed up automatically on a schedule;
  • Resources that are available in the event there are problems with a computer system; and
  • Backup or other procedures that can be used to continue operations in the event that a system is not available.

3.B.1.12. Loss of Mission-Critical Equipment

Some equipment may be so mission-critical that its loss will shut down operations until it is replaced. Ensure that this equipment has all the necessary protection (e.g., security, fire protection) and plan what to do if it is not available.

3.B.1.13. Loss of High-Value or Difficult-to-Replace Equipment

Some equipment is impossible or very difficult to replace. When it is lost, the laboratory may not be able to complete this function for an extended period of time. Very expensive equipment may take longer to process through insurance or may not be able to be replaced immediately.

3.B.2. What Every Laboratory Should Know and Have

3.B.2.1. Survival Kit

Every laboratory and all laboratory personnel should consider the possibility of having to stay at work for an extended time or under unusual conditions, such as a power loss. Consider keeping the following on hand:

  • For the laboratory:
    • emergency contact information,
    • flashlight,
    • radio and batteries,
    • first-aid kit, and
    • safety glasses and gloves.
  • For individuals:
    • change of clothing and shoes,
    • medications,
    • contact lens solution,
    • nonperishable snacks,
    • water, and
    • blanket, jacket, or fleece.

This list is not complete. Organizations such as the Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have comprehensive Web pages that describe materials to have on hand in case of an emergency that requires personnel to shelter in place.

3.B.2.2. Training

In addition to laboratory safety issues, laboratory personnel should be familiar with what to do in an emergency. Topics may include

  • evacuation procedures;
  • emergency shutdown procedures—equipment shutdown and materials that should be stored safely;
  • communications during an emergency—what to expect, where to call or look for information;
  • how and when to use a fire extinguisher;
  • security issues;
  • protocol for absences due to travel restrictions or illness;
  • safe practices for power outage;
  • shelter in place;
  • handling suspicious mail or phone calls;
  • laboratory-specific protocols relating to emergency planning and response;
  • handling violent behavior in the workplace;
  • first-aid and CPR training, including automated external defibrillator training if available.

Periodic drills to assist in training and evaluation of the emergency plan are recommended as part of the training program.

3.C. LEADERSHIP AND PRIORITIES

In an emergency situation, even with good planning, a number of factors tend to create a chaotic environment. Emotions may run high, uncertainties may exist regarding how long the conditions will last, and the general routine of the laboratory environment is disrupted.

Decisions need to be made, priorities set, and plans put in motion. Having a clear succession of leadership and priorities ahead of time can help provide clarity to the situation.

3.C.1. Decision Makers, with Succession

Determine who will provide leadership for the institution, department, group, or laboratory. Make a list of individuals authorized to make decisions, including financial commitments. Assume that there will be absences and include a succession. Keep in mind that in an emergency situation, the most practical leadership succession does not always follow the organizational chart. Ensure that the people on that list know their designation and understand their responsibilities.

3.C.2. Laboratory Priorities

In the event of a reduction of staff, a limited amount of freezer space for sample storage, or other circumstances that place limitations on laboratory operations, experiments may need to be suspended or laboratory materials allowed to deteriorate. Consider laboratory priorities ahead of time, to reduce the decision-making burden during an emergency. Examples of priorities include securing pathogenic microbe libraries; securing toxic, flammable, or unstable compounds; and securing compounds that could be precursors to pharmaceuticals.

Review the operations and materials in the laboratory and formulate a hierarchy. Although each laboratory has unique needs, the following is one example:

  • Priority 1: Protect human life.
  • Priority 2: Protect research animals:

    Grant-funded research animals,

    Thesis-related research animals,

    Other research animals.

  • Priority 3: Protect property and the environment:

    Mission-critical property,

    High-value equipment,

    Difficult to replace materials.

  • Priority 4: Maintain integrity of research:

    Grant-funded research,

    Thesis-related research,

    Other research.

3.C.3. Essential Personnel

In an emergency, there may be a facility closure and/ or travel bans in place that would restrict personnel in their ability to report to work. If the laboratory must remain at least partially operational and personnel must report to work, it is important that these individuals be recognized as “essential personnel.” There are human resources and payroll issues that may factor into this designation, as well as institutional policies.

In an emergency, the duties and responsibilities of the individuals reporting to work may be different than their responsibilities under normal conditions. Ensure that personnel understand and accept these responsibilities.

When there is a travel ban due to a state of emergency, those who must travel by car will need documentation from the institution stating that they are essential personnel. These individuals should keep such documentation in their vehicle to provide to a law enforcement officer. It remains the decision of that law enforcement officer whether to allow the travel.

3.D. COMMUNICATION DURING AN EMERGENCY

Communication is key during an unexpected incident. Depending on the circumstances, some regular means of communication may be compromised: telephones may not work; a power loss may affect access to computers.

Among the most important elements of emergency preparedness is the communications plan. Laboratory personnel should know how to find information, how to contact people, and what to expect in terms of communications.

3.D.1. Contact List

Institutions should have extended contact information, including home, office, and cell phone numbers, for key personnel, including individuals familiar with the operations of the laboratories. In an emergency, particularly when outside emergency responders, such as police and ambulance attendants, are on-site, being able to speak with someone who can describe what is behind the laboratory doors can sometimes mean the difference between a reasonably appropriate response to the situation at hand and an overresponse that could tie up resources for an extended period.

Within the laboratories, laboratory managers, principal investigators, or others assigned leadership responsibility for emergencies should have up-to-date contact lists for all laboratory personnel. Such lists should be accessible from both the laboratory and from home.

Consider collecting information regarding an individual's ability to get to the laboratory during an emergency. Know who is within walking distance, who has access to a vehicle that can travel in all types of weather, or who has commitments that would preclude them from coming to the laboratory.

To aid emergency responders, many laboratories also post contact information on the laboratory door, as well as information about the hazards within the laboratory. An example emergency response poster can be found on the CD that accompanies this book.

3.D.2. Communication Plan

There are numerous ways to communicate during an emergency. Each institution, department, and laboratory group should have a communication plan that details which means of communication may be implemented. Laboratory personnel should be aware of the plan and should know what to expect and what is expected of them.

When an emergency affects a large population, telephone systems may quickly become overloaded, and local or institutional police, security, or public safety officials may be bombarded with calls. Instruct laboratory personnel to limit their use of phones during such times and use text messaging, e-mail, and the internet as primary means of communication.

3.D.2.1. Telephone

The telephone is often the most direct way to contact people. Some institutions have implemented mass notification systems that send voice messages to several phone numbers simultaneously. For a department or laboratory, a telephone chain may be an effective means of sharing information.

In an emergency that affects a large population, telephone systems may quickly become overloaded. Other circumstances may render telephones unusable. Do not rely only on telephones for communication of important instructions or information.

Hotlines with recorded messages are also helpful. For a laboratory, the number could be used for this purpose. In an emergency, the person in charge could leave a message with instructions on the main telephone that is available to anyone who calls.

3.D.2.2. Text Messages

Text messaging utilizes cellular phone service but can be more reliable. Even when cellular service is too weak or overloaded for calls, text messaging is often available. Text messages can be sent via cell phone or through e-mail. Check with the individual's service provider to determine the domain name to send text messages via e-mail. For example, for a Verizon Wireless customer with the phone number 123-456-7890, sending an e-mail to moc.txetv@0987654321 would deliver the message as a text message. Most text message services have a limit of 120 characters per message.

3.D.2.3. E-Mail

E-mail can be a reliable way of sharing information. In the event that the institution's computer system is affected, it is prudent to have an alternative e-mail address for each person. Consider preparing a Listserve or e-mail list for use during an emergency.

3.D.2.4. Internet and Blogs

Posting updates on the institution or laboratory Web site is an easy way to reach multiple people. Instruct individuals to visit the site in the event of an emergency.

If using the laboratory Web site for this purpose is not practical, consider using a blog. Many internet providers and search engine sites offer free blog services. Blogs allow the users to post information easily without the use of a Web-page editor.

3.D.2.5. Emergency Contacts

Having the name and contact information for at least one friend or family member of laboratory personnel is prudent. The information would be useful if a person cannot be reached or in an emergency involving the laboratory person.

3.D.2.6. Media and Community Relations

If an incident has caught the attention of the media, whether local, national, or even a school or facility newspaper, ensure that the institution's spokesperson is involved in any conversations with reporters. Media inquiries should go through the person or group that is used to working with the media, because it is very easy for facts or issues to be misconstrued or presented in an inflammatory manner. All involved should be instructed to forward calls and interviewers to the media relations group.

When an incident command system has been instituted, a press officer will be appointed. All inquiries and statements go through this individual or group.

3.D.3. Assembly Point

Consider establishing an assembly point for laboratory personnel. In an emergency, essential personnel would be expected to report to that assembly point whether or not they have received specific instructions. This plan is especially helpful when communications are limited.

3.E. EVACUATIONS

Fires, spills, and other emergencies may require evacuation of the building or the laboratory. All laboratory personnel should be aware of the evacuation procedures for the building and laboratory.

3.E.1. Shutdown Procedures

Some laboratories may have operations, materials, or equipment that could pose a hazard if simply abandoned and left unattended for an extended period. If a building is evacuated for an emergency, hours may elapse before personnel are allowed back inside. Consider the hazards in the laboratory and establish procedures to follow during an evacuation.

In the event that processes, experiments, or equipment were not shut down prior to evacuation and may pose a risk to health, the environment, or property, inform emergency responders of the situation. Emergency responders may escort a person into the laboratory to shut down the process, or they may ask for advice on how to do so themselves.

3.E.1.1. Processes Requiring Special Shutdown Procedures

Make a list of processes that need to be shut down prior to evacuation. Post the procedures in a conspicuous place and ensure that all laboratory personnel are aware of them. Posting a list at the exits may be helpful as a reminder to laboratory personnel as they leave.

3.E.1.2. Experiments Running Unattended

Note the hazards of experiments left unattended for an extended period. For routine procedures that fit into this category, establish procedures for safely terminating the procedure prior to evacuation.

3.E.2. Assembly Points and Evacuation Routes

Each building, section of a building, or group should have a designated assembly point to which individuals evacuate. At the assembly point, the emergency coordinator will account for individuals who should have evacuated, to advise emergency responders on the probability of individuals left in the building.

Main and alternative evacuation routes should be posted. Supervisors should ensure that all laboratory personnel are familiar with the safest way to evacuate the building and where to assemble. In case of evacuation, sign-in/sign-out boards or other check-in methods can be used as an aid to determine whether employees are in the building.

3.F. SHELTER IN PLACE

For certain emergency situations, rather than evacuation, emergency responders may advise that people shelter in place, meaning that they remain inside the building. Such circumstances may include hazardous material releases outdoors; weather emergencies, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, or suspects wielding weapons.

When directed to shelter in place, take the following actions:

  • Go or stay inside the building.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Close and lock doors and windows.
  • If possible, go to a location within the building that has no exterior doors or windows.
  • As possible, monitor the situation via a radio, the internet, or a telephone.

Ensure that the laboratory is prepared by having a radio and flashlight on hand and provide an overview of shelter-in-place procedures to laboratory personnel as part of their orientation.

3.G. LOSS OF POWER

Most laboratory buildings experience occasional brief periods of power loss. Such instances may be minor disturbances or could damage equipment or ruin experimentation. Longer term power outages may cause significant disruption and loss. It is prudent to consider the effects of long-term and short-term power loss and implement plans to minimize negative outcomes.

3.G.1. Short-Term Power Loss

3.G.1.1. Potential Effects

Consider what can happen in the event of short-term power loss. If the outcome may be more than just an inconvenience, implement steps to reduce the impact. For example, if temperature is regulated by a heating mantle and loss of heat for even a few minutes could create an unacceptable variation, the result may be loss of that particular experimental run.

When developing a plan for handling a short-term power loss, consideration should be given as to what “state” a piece of equipment goes to during a loss of power or a resumption of power. Equipment should enter a fail-safe state and it should be tested for this state by purposely shutting off power to it and then reenergizing the circuit. Any interlocks (e.g., against high temperatures on heating mantels) should be rechecked after a loss of power. Some equipment must be restarted manually after a shutdown, resulting in longer term power loss even when power is restored. Uninterruptable power supplies and automatic generators should be considered for freezers and refrigerators that are used to store unstable compounds.

3.G.1.2. Laboratory Procedures

If laboratory personnel are present when power is lost, and power is not restored immediately, consider the following actions:

  • Turn off equipment, particularly if leaving before power is restored. Some equipment can be damaged if turned on abruptly once power comes back online. If no one is in the laboratory when the power is restored, equipment that does turn on will be running unattended.
  • Discontinue operations requiring local ventilation, such as laboratory chemical hoods. The building ventilation system may not be on emergency power.
  • Close laboratory chemical hood sashes.

3.G.2. Long-Term Power Loss

Damaged power distribution systems and other conditions may result in power loss that lasts hours or days. This has implications for security, safety, and experimental work that go well beyond those for a short-term power loss.

3.G.2.1. Security Issues

For laboratories with specialized security systems, such as card readers or electronic locks, know if the locks are locked or unlocked in the event of power failure. Develop a backup plan for laboratory security in the absence of such systems.

3.G.2.2. Environmental and Storage Conditions

The most common problem during a power outage is storage of materials that require specialized environmental conditions, such as refrigeration and humidity controls.

For example, sub-80 °C freezers, may hold their temperature for a few hours after a power loss but will eventually warm. This warming may lead to loss of samples or, for materials that become unstable when warmed, to more hazardous conditions, including fire, overpressurization, or release.

3.G.2.3. Discontinuation of Experiments

Experiments that rely on power may need to be discontinued and disassembled. Leaving the materials in place may not be prudent. Someone should be assigned responsibility for walking through the laboratory to identify problems and ensure that materials are safely stored.

3.G.3. Preplanning

There are many options for minimizing the effects of a power loss, including alternative energy sources and, when that is not practical, prioritizing experimental needs, consolidating, and using dry ice.

3.G.3.1. Generator Power

The laboratory building may be connected to a generator. If so, know what will continue to run during a power loss. In some buildings, for example, the generator may only run emergency lighting and security systems. In others, the ventilation system, all or in part, may be connected to the generator. Some buildings may have specially marked outlets that are connected to the generator.

One potentially negative aspect of a generator is that there is usually a slight delay, up to several seconds, from the time the power is lost to the time that the power load is taken up by the generator. Equipment that is sensitive to a minor power disruption may be affected and a generator may not be the right solution.

Know what will continue to operate during a power loss. Determine how long the laboratory can rely on the generator. If there is equipment that would benefit from connection to the generator, inquire about the possibility of such a connection being made.

3.G.3.2. Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

When generator power is not available or if equipment is sensitive to the slight power delay, UPS systems may be the right choice for continued power. UPS systems are composed of large rechargeable batteries that immediately provide emergency power when the main supply is interrupted.

UPS systems come in a variety of types and sizes. The three basic types are offline, line interactive, and online. The differences among the three are related to the level and type of surge protection, with the offline providing the least amount of surge protection and the online providing the most sophisticated protection. Size varies based on power needs. When purchasing an UPS for equipment other than a computer, consult with the equipment manufacturer to help choose the right solution.

All UPS systems require some degree of maintenance. The battery needs to be replaced at an interval specified by the manufacturer. Batteries may be expensive and should be figured into the cost of the system.

3.G.3.3. Dry Ice

Dry ice may be helpful in maintaining temperatures in refrigerators or freezers. Because demand for dry ice increases significantly during a power loss, have a list of alternative vendors in case the regular vendors are unable to provide supplies.

To preserve resources, researchers should prioritize their experimental materials needing refrigeration and combine them as much as possible.

3.G.3.4. Other

As with any crisis, cooperation among laboratory groups and individuals results in the best outcome. Creative problem solving is something at which most researchers are skilled and it should never be overlooked in an emergency.

3.H. INSTITUTIONAL OR BUILDING CLOSURE

Weather emergencies, fire, or other circumstances may require closure of an institution or building. Laboratories may be inaccessible or special permission may be required to enter or work in the laboratory. Whereas interruption in research or teaching may be a nuisance, other conditions may pose a hazard or a risk of significant loss of research.

Ensure that personnel expected to report to work even when there is a closure are aware of their responsibilities and have been designated as essential personnel. (See section 3.C.3 for more information.)

3.H.1. Short-Term Closure

For laboratory closures lasting a day or less, the main concerns include experiments running unattended and security. Whether the closure is planned or unexpected, it is important to consider how it will affect laboratory operations, and how critical operations can be maintained. See Box 3.1 for a checklist of things to consider while planning for a closure.

Box Icon

BOX 3.1

Continuity of Laboratory Operations Checklist. List of high-priority operations List of personnel who can perform these operations

If the closure is unexpected, experiments may be left running unattended. Depending on the experimental procedure, problems may occur with temperature regulation, integrity of containers, evaporation of solutions, concentration of solutions, and numerous other possibilities.

3.H.2. Long-Term Closure

A fire or other event that causes serious building damage, police activity, and communicable disease outbreaks are just a few examples of incidents that could result in a building or institution closing for several days, weeks, or months. It may be necessary to place the laboratory into a state of inactivity or hibernation during an emergency that causes serious staffing disruptions. Plans for making the transition from active to suspended laboratory operations should be a part of the organization's emergency response policy.

Consider the impact of laboratory closure on research, services provided to outside entities, and other groups. Communicate disruptions in services to those that rely on them.

3.H.3. Alternative Laboratory Facilities

If the laboratory will be inaccessible, it may be possible to share another laboratory at or outside the institution or to set up a temporary laboratory in another space. Preplanning for such an event reduces the amount of downtime.

Make a list of what is essential for an alternative facility:

  • equipment and materials needed to perform priority tasks,
  • space,
  • environmental controls (e.g., temperature, humidity),
  • security requirements, and
  • ventilation requirements.

3.I. EMERGENCY AFFECTING THE COMMUNITY

When an emergency affects only the institution, building, or laboratory, community resources, emergency responders, and external services are generally available for assistance or for business continuity. However, when an emergency affects the local community or a larger area, resuming normal operations may take longer.

A laboratory may be indirectly affected by a community emergency when goods and services are unavailable.

3.I.1. Disruption of Deliveries of Goods and Services

Many laboratories rely on just-in-time delivery of chemicals and supplies because stockpiling chemicals poses its own risks and should be avoided. Excessive storage of other supplies may result in an increased fire risk from combustible materials.

As part of the preplanning process, consider the following:

  • Prepare a list of alternative vendors and service providers in the event that the primary vendor is unavailable. Add them to the vendor list for centralized purchasing or have a contract on hand if necessary.
  • Ensure that primary vendors have up-to-date business continuity plans.
  • Ensure that the institution or laboratory is a priority for your primary vendors and service providers.

3.I.2. Laboratory Staff Shortage

Staff may not be able to report to the laboratory. For continuity of laboratory operations, ensure that personnel are cross-trained to be able to fill in for a person who is absent. Have a succession plan that clarifies who is responsible when supervisors are not available.

3.J. FIRE OR LOSS OF LABORATORY

A fire can be devastating. Even when fire does not damage the laboratory directly, it may result in disruption of services or limited access to the laboratory, or damage may be caused by smoke, water, or fire-extinguishing materials.

First, assess the vulnerabilities within the laboratory; then take action to prevent fire. Maintaining safe chemical storage, minimizing combustible materials, and controlling ignition sources are just a few examples of fire prevention. Next, ensure that there is an adequate level of detection and, where possible, extinguishing systems, and take additional steps to limit the impact of a fire. Finally, consider how the laboratory would manage after a fire and implement plans for facilitating continuity of operations. (See Vignette 3.1.)

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VIGNETTE 3.1

Preplanning reduces the impact of a fire on continuity of operations. A DNA sequencing/synthesis laboratory that provided services to several other laboratories at the institution experienced a fire that caused a total loss of all equipment due to smoke (more...)

3.J.1. Records for Replacement of Laboratory Equipment

Keep records for both existing equipment and replacement equipment. Having purchasing records readily available can make a difference in how long it takes for insurance claims to be processed. Because older equipment may not be replaceable, knowing what alternatives are available and where to get them may speed up resumption of laboratory activities.

3.J.2. Alternative Laboratories to Continue Operations

It may be necessary to use existing laboratories or furnish a temporary laboratory in order to continue operations. (See section 3.H.3 for more information.)

3.J.2.1. Preplanning and Prevention

To help prevent a fire or limit the effect of a fire, ensure that the laboratory has the following in place:

  • appropriate types and number of fire extinguishers and individuals trained to use them,
  • sprinkler systems or other automatic extinguishing systems for sensitive areas or equipment,
  • fire-safe storage of data and mission-critical samples, and
  • good chemical storage practices.

3.K. DRILLS AND EXERCISES

We all hope we never have to implement emergency plans. However, because the plans are rarely implemented, it is even more important to have drills and/ or exercises that allow laboratory personnel to simulate their response.

Test alarm systems regularly, at least once a year. Prudent practice coordinates the testing of the system with a drill that exercises the appropriate response. Fire drills are a classic example. By sounding the alarm and expecting everyone to evacuate, one can uncover problems with the planning.

Drills and exercises may be full scale, where individuals are expected to carry out the responsibilities and procedures; tabletop exercises, where individuals discuss their response but do not physically respond; or a combination of both.

3.L. OUTSIDE RESPONDERS AND RESOURCES

Some emergencies require response by police, fire, ambulance, or other outside responders. Prudent practice establishes good communication with these responders before they are expected to respond to an emergency. You can facilitate this by

  • inviting responders to the facility for a tour of the areas of most concern;
  • providing information about areas of higher risk for a fire, spill, or other emergency;
  • providing maps and other tools to help them navigate the facility and familiarize themselves with the location of laboratory buildings or special facilities;
  • informing emergency responders and local hospitals of the use of chemicals that present unusual hazards; and
  • having chemical inventories accessible remotely through a password-protected system or file, which allows emergency responders to have an idea of what could be in the laboratory or building before they enter.
Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK55874

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