Addressing management issues

July 1, 2011

Emergency preparedness tips


What should the lab be doing to prepare for various disasters or emergency situations? Do labs located in different areas of the country need to do thing differently in some respects (e.g., areas where floods, earthquakes and/or tsunamis occur)? What are some key preparedness tips that an emergency manager for a lab should be aware of during all types of emergency events? What are some concerns a lab might face after a disaster?


Be sure you have a robust emergency-management (EM) plan for your laboratory. Make sure the EM plan gives staff easy-to-follow instructions on what to do with the loss of power, water, ventilation, lighting, and staffing. Educate and drill the staff on the plan so everyone will be prepared to face a disaster when (and if) it occurs.

Generally, hospitals perform a risk assessment based on geography to consider what disasters could strike and what the likeliest ones would be. Labs can do that, too, in order to fine-tune their EM plans. In a flood-prone area, for example, you should address a response to rising water in your plan, and in earthquake-prone areas, consider potential falling objects. Be careful not to overdo this, however — you cannot consider every contingency in the EM plan.

Some key preparedness tips that an emergency manager for a lab should be aware of during all types of emergency events include:

  1. Educate your entire staff on the lab's EM plan and drill them repeatedly. The more prepared your staff, the calmer and more ready they will be when a real event occurs.
  2. Remember that everyone with whom you are dealing in an emergency is under the same stress you are feeling. Because of this, your plan may not roll out as expected — be calm and be ready to venture down a path you did not foresee.
  3. Any disaster likely affects the entire building in which the lab is housed, so be prepared to work with other departments and people outside of the lab. To avoid confusion and possible duplication of efforts, discuss your EM plan with other departments before a disaster occurs so everyone involved is aware of how others will be responding.
  4. If you know an event is coming (e.g., hurricane, blizzard, flood), bring some supplies to work. Shifts will be long, and lab personnel probably will have to stay at work even when their shifts are over. Bring clothing, medication, and food. Extra portable lights, fans, blankets, and pillows will be important during extended stays. Prepare your home in advance, too, or make arrangements with a neighbor, in the event you have to be away for extended periods.
  5. Remember to have a recovery phase in your EM plan. If your entire facility is evacuated, consider how you will bring services back online in the laboratory once the building is occupied again. Things will happen that you do not expect, and you should learn from these events. If you live in a tornado-prone area, find out what happened at other sites that have been hit. What were the lessons learned and how can you incorporate those lessons into your plan? A flood or tornado can catch you off guard if these weather events are not common in your area, but your plan should be general enough to help you survive them.
  6. Consider the details. You may have to evacuate part of the lab because of a flood or because of a wall collapse — in any case, you should have an evacuation/relocation plan. Consider partnering with other labs in the region prior to emergency situations, so when disaster does strike, other labs in the area are ready to help your lab out (and vice versa).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends individuals have a kit prepared for emergencies — even a zombie apocalypse ( Realistically, no one can prepare for every imaginable disaster. Basically, labs need items, including alternate testing methods, that will help them continue to operate, if possible. Then consider your human resources and their needs as well.

Important points to address in an Emergency Management plan

  • lighting
  • power
  • heating/ventilation
  • exhaust
  • communications
  • alarms
  • specimen transport
  • water
  • critical supplies
  • liquid waste
  • information technology
  • personnel

For more information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information and resources to help healthcare facilities prepare for and respond to
public health emergencies at

The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) maintains a current State Public Health Laboratories (SPHL) Emergency Contact Directory. The 2011 APHL Annual Report of All-Hazards Preparedness includes information on how SPHLs prepare for and respond to all hazards and threats including intentional and natural biological, chemical, and radiological threats; disease outbreaks; disasters; and food emergencies.
Go to

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) publishes Sentinel Laboratory Guidelines for suspected agents of bioterrorism and infectious diseases that include responses to anthrax; avian influenza A H5N1; botulinum toxin; plague (Yersinia Pestis); staphylococcal enterotoxin B; Tularemia; unknown viruses;
and more at

MLO's “Management Q&A” column provides practical solutions to readers' laboratory management issues from experts in various fields. Readers may send questions to manqa < at >