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preparing your lab for disasters

Disaster Planning: Is Your Lab Ready?

What’s at risk, and how to plan for disaster events

Michelle Dotzert, PhD

Michelle Dotzert is the creative services manager for Lab Manager. She holds a PhD in Kinesiology (specializing in exercise biochemistry) from the University of Western Ontario. Her research examined the...

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Laboratories may be impacted by numerous types of disaster events, ranging from natural disasters such as fires, floods, and power outages, to man-made disasters that occur during experiments and renovations, and even cyberattacks. Not only is the physical damage a serious concern, productivity, proprietary information, compliance, and even IT infrastructure is at risk. While it may be impossible to predict these events, having a continuity and recovery plan in place will ensure employee safety and mitigate potential losses.

What’s at risk

A disaster event can create enormous costs, and is potentially devastating for a laboratory organization. In addition to physical damage, short-term outages can affect instrumentation and critical samples—think of the valuable assets contained in an ultralow temperature freezer, for example. As outages progress to longer term, they compound these effects, and begin to create new challenges. According to Angelo Filosa, global head of OneSource Professional Services at PerkinElmer, “[longer-term outages] start impacting other areas like your IT infrastructure and compliance, and can create interruption in production that creates significant delays in delivering products to patients, and can lead to drug shortages.” Recovering from such losses, if at all possible, can take years.

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Building a continuity plan

The effects of long-term outages can be mitigated or avoided with a comprehensive disaster plan. “The most important consideration is to make sure you have a business continuity plan in place for when disaster strikes,” says Filosa. He recommends creating a complete inventory of all assets and instruments, as well as samples and materials. This can be used to help prioritize items and processes in the event of a disaster. “At this point, performing a business impact analysis will help labs prioritize and identify what investments are needed to create or deploy plans,” he explains. Filosa also recommends creating a profile for each lab to take into account any variability (for example, whether the lab is regulated), which can also impact recovery plans.

Disaster recovery phase

In addition to creating business continuity plans, it is critical to identify an emergency response team that can be deployed as soon as possible after a disaster event. “They will act as the command center, coordinating disaster recovery efforts, and have the accountability to make decisions in real time,” says Filosa.

When a disaster occurs, the first priority is ensuring a safe and secure work environment for employees. Then, the damage needs to be assessed—“that way the team can prioritize essential functions, workflows, and labs based on the original business impact analysis, or determine whether the original plan requires modification,” adds Filosa. It may also be valuable to ensure partners and vendors are prepared and aligned with your recovery strategy. Finally, Filosa notes, “there should be a return to work plan to bring back employees safely and securely.”

The world is filled with uncertainty, and there is so much at stake when disaster strikes the lab. Developing a disaster recovery plan, and designating an emergency response team to carry out these plans can ensure operations are maintained in the event of a disaster, and secure the future of the laboratory.