Disaster management is about preparedness, often for unknown eventualities. Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and related technology can help insure against the unexpected. Of course, the primary challenge in preparedness is anticipating just what it is for which you are preparing. In the case of disaster management, the possible scenarios vary a great deal – with some being virtually impossible to foresee – so any management plan faces potential failure right from the outset.
Disaster management can be divided into 3 categories:
- Prevention/Minimizing Risk
- Coping during the event
- Post-Event Get Well
The SOPs for each of these categories can be very different, depending not only on to which stage they apply, but also the nature of the disaster.
Disasters come in a variety of forms, including:
- Natural Disasters. These include weather-related, such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, severe storms, being snowed in, etc.
- Disease, infections, pandemics
- Technical infrastructure failure/intrusion
- Physical attack
- Internal compromise (accidental, fire, sabotage…)
Most would agree that some of these scenarios are more or less likely than others. For instance, we are currently experiencing a global pandemic – which, while perhaps included in disaster preparedness SOPs by many labs as a possible disaster, still has caught most nation’s infrastructures largely unprepared and is causing major disruption because it was arguably not seen as one of the most likely events. Disaster preparedness has typically tended to focus on IT and data management risks and/or natural disasters. SOPs center around standard, daily lab safety. The truth is that whatever the odds of a particular disaster, they become 100% once they happen. It’s important to have sufficient risk-reduction SOPs in play, and a good Continuity Of Operations Plan (COOP) for each potential scenario to ensure the best chance of coping during the event and recovering afterwards.
So what does a lab need to do in order to cope with the present situation and to be as adequately prepared for any future events as possible?
Although the potential scenarios are many and varied, some basic preparations can go a long way toward mitigation no matter which situation you encounter. If you haven’t already, your lab should consider addressing each of these elements as a basis for disaster management:
Establish optimal inventory levels for each item, including critical items and items likely to become more important or critical in a crisis. Make sure you have a LIMS that tracks levels and sends notifications when they are reaching re-order levels – or in fact performs automated ordering. It should also perform similarly with regard to expiration dates and disposal (documented, as required).
Staff should have easy access to and be trained on issue management, including escalation process, personnel responsible for each step and department or area of activity, decision-makers, and communication protocols.
The ability to quickly determine exactly who is in the building at any given time can be a crucial part of emergency management. Implement systems and SOPs that ensure the best possible tracking and access to that information.
As we said earlier, internal communication methods and protocols are important – in fact essential – in any stage of disaster management. Additionally, plans for communicating with authorities, employees outside the lab, etc., especially in the event that normal communications are disrupted, should be considered in your planning.
SPECIAL SOPs BASED ON TYPE OF EMERGENCY
Remember, factors include not only how badly the lab itself is affected, but also how badly other resources, suppliers, clients etc. are affected – which will impact the lab.
These will vary somewhat depending on the nature of the crisis. In the current COVID-19//SARS-COV-2 situation some Disease/pandemics SOPs worth considering either as standard or to be implemented upon experiencing the disaster can include:
- Remote working (working from home)
- Virtual meetings, minimized travel
- Enhanced cleaning and sterilization
- Use of robotics, automation
- Cloud-based computing/data management
- PPE (personal protective equipment)
- Lab-provided sample pickup (using PPE and cleansing practices)
- Client portal for submissions and reporting (reduce paper)
- Frequent referral to emerging directives (govt., CDC, other relevant authorities)
REGULAR REVIEW AND REVISION
A frequent failing of disaster preparedness is only discovered in the midst of a crisis: outdated information and plans. Without regular and accurate updating of information, large portions of a disaster management plan are instantly rendered useless. For instance, if stock records aren’t kept up to date you may not know for sure how much flammable material you have on hand during a fire. If staff and work shift information are outdated you may be unsure of who is in the building. What may have been seen as a tiresome and boringly repetitive task of review and updating now becomes critical – and all too often tragically inadequate. Regular review and updating of the plan and related information can literally become the difference between life or death in times of emergency.
How Technology Can Help
Technology has always been employed to solve problems throughout history, and we are now more technologically-ready to implement ways to address disaster management than ever before. It may well be time to factor tech into our laboratory disaster management plans beyond just data protection and recovery.
Here are some tech solutions to consider:
During the current coronavirus pandemic, your lab will want to employ the basic disaster management components (Inventory, Escalation Flowchart, Personnel Accounting and Communications Protocols), along with the Special SOPs listed here for Disease/pandemics. And going forward, you should keep in mind the importance of regular review and revision for future crises. Stay safe and well.
- Business Continuity Planning
- Infectious Disease Informatics
Contact LabLynx, Inc. to learn more about how we can help your lab with cloud based business and lab disaster management and other functions.