When disaster strikes an academic biomedical research laboratory, the potentially catastrophic impacts may be felt at many levels, from individual researchers to the scientific enterprise as a whole. Likewise, actors at all levels of the academic biomedical research community have a role to play in preparing for disasters and contributing to a culture of preparedness and resilience.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine outlines the actions that researchers—and others—can take to enhance the disaster resilience of the academic biomedical research community.
Laboratories may face:
Tropical Storm Allison dumped 10 million gallons of water into the basement of the medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC-H), putting more than 1 million gross square feet of space out of service for months. Facility damage alone was estimated at $52 million.
3,200 faculty, staff, and students at the UTHSC-H were displaced for more than a month.
The work of about 400 faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students was affected, with research projects and graduate training programs significantly delayed.
Total losses for UTHSC-H were estimated at $205.4 million.
Major flooding combined with power outages led to many researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Center (NYU Langone) to establish makeshift, temporary labs at neighboring research institutions. About 90 researchers had to relocate long-term.
A significant number of research animals died at NYU Langone, with an estimated dollar value, including replacement cost, of $25-$30 million.
The value of lost scientific equipment at NYU Langone was estimated at $20-$25 million, and damage to the institution’s IT data center was estimated at $33 million.
As a result of Hurricane Sandy, the National Institutes of Health reinvested millions to reinitiate research programs: $75.9 million for research restoration, $49.2 million for construction and renovation, and $1.7 million for safety training.
The principal investigator (PI) is the central focus of research efforts. As the person most knowledgeable about the critical functions within the research laboratory environment, the PI and his or her lab members are in the best position to understand the specialized needs of their research, and together with institutional leadership, they can and should take steps to protect their research and promote a resilient laboratory.
Protecting the research data, samples, and reagents of the research enterprise is ultimately the responsibility of both the academic research institution and the PI.
Individual researcher-based efforts are crucial to achieving resilience in the academic biomedical research community.
In addition to helping develop and implement plans, policies, and procedures to ensure operational continuity, researchers should work with their institutions to safeguard and preserve critical aspects of research. Researchers can:
Researchers should stay up-to-date on accreditations, current trends, and trainings so that their institutions can adequately implement and execute preparedness plans.
It is important for researchers to maintain a culture of compliance and strive to engage in safe work practices day-to-day. By practicing personal preparedness actions—both at home and at work—researchers can make an important contribution to the disaster resilience of the academic biomedical research community.