Plan for Unexpected Lab Interruptions
By Iva Fedorka
Many of us have experienced how lab functions can be disrupted by extreme weather conditions, equipment failure, building damage, utility and communications failures, or civil disturbances. Planning for unexpected interruptions is your best chance to maintain laboratory operations during such a crisis.
What Is a COOP?
A continuity of operations plan (COOP), sometimes called a “disaster” plan, is an outline of actions to take in an emergency. A COOP may be partially or completely activated when the lab or its support systems aren’t working.
COOPs can help maintain or restore laboratory operations during a crisis and mitigate the effects of internal or external events. Having a plan in place can help you resume core activities as quickly as possible, direct staff, and facilitate your recovery.
Why a Lab COOP?
As unique environments, laboratories should develop COOPs separately from their associated facilities. Laboratories usually have extensive instrumentation, use dedicated spaces, may require special air handling, and may be impossible to relocate quickly and easily.
Laboratories perform key functions in healthcare facilities, manufacturing sites, academic and research institutions, as well as local, state, and federal government agencies. Although operational interruptions may be infrequent, they can be devastating to the lab itself and the organizations and people it serves.
Your COOP should provide for “worst case scenarios” while also addressing smaller disruptions. Ideally, a COOP addresses potential threats, crises, and natural or man-made emergencies. It should describe the infrastructure, resources, and other requirements to maintain or restore function within a specific time frame. An effective COOP establishes specific plans of action, identifies responsible personnel, and determines what additional training your employees will need.
Look Beyond the Lab
Review your organization’s COOP to better coordinate communication and responses. If your lab is part of a larger academic institution, for example, you may not be able to fully control power supplies, air conditioning, and other systems.
Activating Your COOP
When it’s time to put your plan into action, execution is key.
- Empower supervisors and managers
- Display and communicate initiatives, show progress
- Train everyone
- Train employees and set expectations
- Designate a point of contact (POC) for each lab section
- Conduct regular practices or mock emergencies
- Create a checklist for each stage
- Base checklists on your lab’s complexity and design
- Track progress and send reminders of next tasks
- Include primary and back-up forms
- Maintain a contact list
- Identify issues and redirect activities
Track and Monitor
- Publish execution progress to avoid panic, keep everyone focused
- Create a dashboard for an overall view
- Collect performance metrics
Your COOP can make a significant difference in a crisis and may be the most important plan you create for your lab. And, although the plan is important, its proper execution is key to success. Annually review and update your COOP and share the updates with employees.
Multiple templates and other resources for COOPs are available online. For an example, see the Continuity of Operations Plan Improvement Tool for Public Health Laboratories from the Association of Public Health Laboratories (www.aphl.org).
Iva Fedorka is a staff writer for Thermo Fisher Scientific.