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.


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 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.

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