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Reducing laboratory losses through disaster mitigation.


Pre-disaster planning is the key to reducing the damage to the laboratory when a disaster strikes. Whether it be a natural disaster such a hurricane, flooding, tornadoes, high winds or fire or a man made disaster such as a power outage, loss of sewage or water, sabotage or terrorism, planning is essential.

Developing a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan

Preparing a plan to reduce the impact of a disaster before it happens provides many benefits to your laboratory and hospital.

* Meets Laboratory and Hospital Needs--Pre-disaster mitigation planning will help you identify the problems and solutions that exist in the laboratory. Every department is different in terms of its budget, instrumentation and hazards. Developing a plan in conjunction with the hospital's comprehensive plan can help you develop solutions that will interface with the hospital goals.

* Achieves Multiple Objectives--Mitigation plans can be tailored to any type hazard. Developing a plan helps the hospital or the laboratory find the most appropriate solutions and address multiple problems.

* Promotes Staff Participation--Prior to a disaster, the mitigation planning process promotes staff input and coordination between departments. Staff participation helps generate ideas for solutions and recognition of ownership of problems.

* Guides Post Disaster Recovery--Pre-disaster plans are useful in preparing the laboratory to deal with post-disaster situations. The plan can guide the hospital or laboratory to further reduce future damages by helping them to develop policies that will promote a rapid recovery and rely on post-disaster opportunities for safety improvements.

What is Mitigation?

The cornerstone of emergency planning is mitigation. Mitigation is defined as "sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from hazards and their effects."

The application of mitigation practices can ensure that damage is reduced during hazardous incidents. Before implementing measures, laboratory managers and hospital administrators must be aware of those hazards which, if they occur, could harm the laboratory. The laboratory personnel should do a hazard identification and vulnerability check. This is where past experiences come into play. If hurricanes have caused damage, they could do it again. If flooding has been a problem in the past, it could flood again. If there have been tornadoes, high winds or wildfires in the past, they could return.

One can use "hazard identification" to help define the extent to which hazards threaten the hospital and the laboratory. Hazard identification tells us how we might be affected by a disaster and how intense the disaster may be.

* Areas of concern: How often is the hazard likely to occur? How severe? Where is it likely to occur? How large a part of the lab or hospital will it affect? How long will it last? How fast is it likely to occur? What time of year is it likely to occur? How much warning will there be?

The next step is to determine how people and structures may be affected. This "vulnerability analysis" tells us which areas are weakest. For example, natural disasters invariably seek out the weakest parts of a structure. It is important that we seek out and eliminate the weak spots in our lab. Is there an area prone to flooding? Are your instruments up off the floor? Are gas tanks secured? Can much of your equipment be stored away in the event of evacuation? What about computer records--where are they stored?


Developing a Laboratory Mitigation Plan

Once a laboratory planning team has been appointed, they can follow this ten-step procedure.

1. Map the hazards--Once you have identified the hazards, establish profiles for each hazard and identify the likelihood of damage to the laboratory or the hospital. Discuss the actions needed to get operational after the disaster.

2. Determine the Potential Damage--Having mapped the hazards, now it is time to estimate the equipment and structures which may be damaged and their replacement costs. This step helps narrow the team focus as to where action should be taken to reduce hazard-related damages.

3. Identify What is Already Being Done--What is the hospital or laboratory already doing to protect against hazard related damages? Are there already emergency operations plans? Are there SOPs that can act as guidelines to establishing operations post disaster? Does each department have evacuation procedures? What about extra copies of all procedures?

4. Identify What is Not Being Done--Are there gaps in hazard protection in the laboratory? Is the existing hazard protection adequate? If so, this plan then becomes an agreement to enforce existing regulations and maintain existing systems. If gaps are noted, the plan should address what actions will be taken to improve hazard damage reduction.

5. Brainstorm Alternatives--The team should work to develop a list of actions that could be taken to reduce losses and eliminate hazards. In order for brainstorming to be effective, one must be sure to follow the "rules."

* Allow each person on the team to participate.

* Generate ideas by quantity not quality.

* Record all suggestions.

After identifying ideas for mitigating laboratory damages, organize the actions for comparison and discussion: prevention; property protection; structural protection and how to keep the lab staff informed, etc.

6. Evaluate Actions--Now you should work to evaluate which suggested mitigation actions are feasible. In this step, one should determine if they are appropriate measures to solve the identified problems. One of the most important factors here is to be sure the proposed action mitigates the hazard. How much will the hazard damages be reduced by this action? It is important to remember that even though a particular action may not do much to reduce the damage when taken alone, that action may be an important step towards more effective actions. Each action must be examined for compatibility with other department objectives. Finally, we want to look at timing. How soon after a disaster does this plan have to go until action, or do we have to start before the disaster, as in a hurricane?

7. Coordinate With Others--Who else is doing similar planning in the hospital? Who can we communicate with to get support after the fact? Coordinate with other departments within the hospital and with other labs around town. Check to see what resources may be available to you. By coordinating your actions, you can prevent duplication and conflicting efforts.

8. Select Actions--Using steps 5, 6, and 7, actions selected from your plan can be prioritized in order of importance. The actions are prioritized based on the most effective in reducing hazard damages and losses.

9. Develop a Strategy--In this step, determine how the lab will implement the prioritized mitigation actions. The previous steps have helped the lab planning team determine why the hazard damage occurs, what they can do to reduce the damage, and where in the lab should the actions be put into play to reduce the losses. To ensure the plan will be effective and will be followed, the planning team will have to:

* establish an implementation committee

* prepare an implementation schedule

* develop an implementation process

10. Adopt and Monitor--During the progress, we involve the process of drafting the plan, formally adopting and monitoring and evaluating the plan.

Why Mitigate?

The purpose of mitigation is twofold: to protect staff and the lab structure and contents as much as possible, and to minimize the costs of disaster response and recovery to the lab.

Natural disasters and hazards have become increasingly more costly, not only for the lab or hospital, but for the American taxpayers. From 1989 to 1993, the average annual loss from disasters was $3.3 billion annually. Over the past four years, that figure has increased to $13 billion annually.

The process can be viewed as a circle where the lab prepares for emergencies and disasters, responds to them when they occur, works together with the staff to help people recover from the disaster, and develops a plan to mitigate the risk of loss in the future.

* Preparedness--Ensures staff is ready for a disaster and respond to it effectively. This requires figuring out reducing laboratory losses (continued from 9) what you will do if essential lab services break down, developing a plan for contingencies, practicing the plan.

* Response--The response begins as soon as a disaster is detected or threatened. It includes the lab team searching the lab for problems and working toward bringing lab services back on line.

* Recovery--The rebuilding after the disaster may take a long time to accomplish and may affect many of your department's operations and patients' testing schedules. Laboratory personnel should coordinate with other hospital teams to help bring about the recovery.

* Mitigation--Effective mitigation actions can decrease the impact, the requirements and the expense of a natural hazard event.


Mitigation is all about reducing the risk of damage and loss after a natural disaster ( such as an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane or flooding) or a manmade disaster (such as sabotage, or terrorism, or power failure). So make plans now. Gather and store all valuable documents such as procedure manuals, service contracts, equipment repair manuals, etc. Next, itemize all lab equipment. You should even take pictures. In case of massive destruction, pictures will help establish the degree of automation and the type of instrumentation that were in the lab.

Follow these action steps to safeguard your laboratory.

1. Determine the type of disaster most likely to impact your laboratory.

2. Determine how to preserve and protect what is most valuable in the lab.

3. Obtain and have ready access to backup equipment.

4. Establish a timeline for recovery post disaster, and lab staff assembly points during the disaster.

5. Make plans tailored to specific needs of the lab sections involved in the disaster.

6. Delegate specific people with primary responsibilities to implement the plan when disaster strikes. 7. Test the plan.


(1.) Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 77843-3117, (409)845-7813

(2.) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Emergency Training Center, Emergency Management Institute

(3.) Jasper County Emergency Management Brochure: Hurricane Preparedness

(4.) After Disaster Strikes, brochure by ARC, FEMA and National Endowment for Financial Education

Gerard P. Boe, PhD, CLC(AMT), MT(AMT), Executive Director of American Medical Technologists' Institute for Education (AMTIE), Editor of AMT Journal of Continuing Education Topics & Issues, and Chair, AMT CLC Evaluation Committee
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Author:Boe, Gerard P.
Publication:AMT Events
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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