When a natural disaster occurs, such as September’s Hurricane Dorian that devastated the Bahamas and proceeded to do more damage all the way up the eastern coastline, it highlights the importance of emergency and disaster preparedness to mitigate the impact of a disaster and restore disrupted laboratory operations as quickly as possible.
Unprecedented Major Disasters
During the 2018 fiscal year, the American Red Cross responded to 258 large-scale U.S. disasters, including 22 major disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and California’s devastating wildfires.1 Emergencies and disasters (e.g., power outages, weather-related disruptions, fire, malicious acts, active shooters, etc.) are unexpected and vary greatly in the length and level of disruption. This uncertainty makes it prudent to think through how each of these disasters would affect your laboratory workflow and patient care, to develop a plan to make sure your team can efficiently work through the crisis, and to verify that your patient data is recoverable.
Stages of Emergency Planning
There are four overlapping stages to laboratory emergency planning:
- Mitigation – doing all you can to prevent a problem and protect your data in case there is an unavoidable disaster
- Preparedness – planning, developing, and implementing procedures; practicing
- Response – managing an ongoing emergency situation
- Recovery – returning to normal operations2
- Perform a vulnerability assessment. Be aware of likely incidents specific to your location. What will the effect be on your laboratory operations for each scenario?
- Conduct drills. Make sure employees are aware of proper procedures.
- Have the proper equipment in place to protect your patient data (UPS, backup procedures, etc.).
- Develop a well-recognized chain of command and a communication protocol to be used in the event of a disaster.
Below are several resources that can be used to help you with emergency planning.
- Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (2014). GP36-A: Planning for Laboratory Operations During a Disaster; Approved Guideline.
This CLSI document provides laboratory emergency preparedness guidelines for planning, response, and recovery phases, including sample checklists, templates, and exercise forms available as appendices.
- HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (ASPR-TRACIE).
The ASPR-TRACIE was created to help healthcare entities and related persons who work in disaster medicine, healthcare system preparedness, and public health emergency preparedness.
This document provides an overview of key continuity of operations issues faced by the laboratory with the intention of guiding protection of laboratory personnel and their operations. Some of its elements are common to academic teaching and support departments, and others are specific to laboratories.
This guide offers a listing of what should be included in a laboratory emergency plan and several templates that can be used to help prepare your lab for emergencies.
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- American Red Cross. Help When It’s Needed Most. Published June 2018. Available from: https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/about-us/publications/fy18-disaster-update.pdf. Accessed September 5, 2019.
- 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. 3, Emergency Planning. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK55874/. Accessed September 5, 2019.