power lines on a sunny day

Hearing that your facility's power is down can be one of the worst news to hear as a Facilities Manager. The good news is that there are ways to prepare for catastrophe and prevent sample loss. 

Revised: April 5th, 2024

How to Prepare Your Laboratory in the Event of a Power Failure

It’s 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday.

Your phone goes off and wakes you up.

Who is on the line? A panicking lab colleague who is losing his mind because the power has been out for the last few hours.

Behavior – to be expected. You too are confused and unsure how to move forward. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that people during a crisis will fail to understand directions and seek expert guidance before taking action.

What Happens if Your Lab is Experiencing Catastrophe?

As a Laboratory or Facilities Manager, facing a power outage likely ranks among one of your worst nightmares. In such scenarios, quickly establishing all relevant details about the outage and identifying the key team members to tackle equipment and facility issues is critical. Ensuring the effectiveness of your laboratory’s power outage contingency plan is crucial to mitigate the risks associated with such disruptions.

There are a myriad of potential hazards that can occur during a facility-wide power outage. A power outage and the loss of power in electrical equipment have the potential to produce dangerous situations that can be hazardous to employees and destroy your research and samples. Toxic chemical vapors or flammable materials might leak out of refrigerators and freezers if chemicals warm up from the equipment’s power failing. Additionally, samples, reagents, and certain reactive materials risk damage if they exceed specific temperature thresholds.

To mitigate these risks and minimize potential hazards during an extended outage, proactive planning and preventive maintenance are key elements to help facilities prepare for catastrophe. Implementing alternate power solutions, such as backup generators, and utilizing materials like dry ice can help maintain safe temperatures in refrigeration units, safeguarding their contents.

Monitoring the functionality of main and alternate power sources, as well as other key facility components such as HVAC systems is another important aspect of a power outage plan. Implementing a real-time monitoring solution that keeps a pulse on your equipment’s power and energy consumption is essential.  Power consumption monitoring allows lab and facility personnel to identify any root cause issues, it preserves capital, and protects assets. Knowing whether a backup generator has switched on, and is also supplying power to the facility enables laboratory and facility operations teams to determine the severity of a laboratory power outage.

Having a detailed checklist associated with all major laboratory equipment and facility conditions is helpful to organize an effective strategy during power outages. This will foster responsibility and accountability in the appropriate personnel to respond to the issues in a timely manner.

Example Of a Power Outage Contingency Plan

We’ve broken this plan into three sections: before, during, and after a power failure.

Though power outages are inevitable, there are ways to avoid the impact of one. The first step is to ensure you have backup generators that can support your lab, or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that can deliver power to specific pieces of lab equipment. No system is flawless, but ensuring you have generators and UPS systems for your environments and equipment will provide a layer of protection to your facility during a lab power outage. 

If your facility has the above-mentioned systems in place but is still facing a facility-wide power failure that overrides the capacities of your backup systems, follow this guide.

Before the Power Goes Out IN YOUR FACILITY:

  • Make sure your lab personnel knows the location of emergency lighting and other necessary equipment (i.e. flashlights, glow sticks, etc.).
  • Prepare a detailed list of the equipment that may need immediate attention or could be damaged during a power surge. 
    • Provide details for devices that are equipped with an automatic “ON” switch, that may turn on when no one is around to monitor it.
    • Create a list of the temperature-sensitive samples, assets, and reagents. Mention the storage parameters that must be maintained to prevent asset loss. 
  • Create a detailed list of all of the equipment containing your specimens (i.e. refrigerators, freezers, etc.).
  • All equipment should receive regular maintenance and calibration
  • Designated laboratory personnel should know: 

  • Additional procedures to keep samples safe in the event of a power outage.
    • Distribute samples across various devices, ensuring distinct sets of experimental samples are stored separately. This will in turn protect them from simultaneous power.
    • Identify refrigerators, freezers, and other cold storage units in your lab and nearby facilities equipped with backup power. Consider storage devices less impacted by power outages, such as those using CO2 or liquid nitrogen, for temporary relocation of critical samples.

When the Power Goes Out IN YOUR FACILITY:

  • Stick to the plan. Laboratory personnel who are well-prepared and trained in all steps of a power outage contingency plan will ensure that risks are mitigated and ensure vital samples are protected.
  • All active experiments should be stopped and/or stabilized.
  • All chemicals should be properly stored and no longer used.
  • All heat sources should be turned off (gas or electric burners) to prevent fires. 
  • All samples outside of storage should be immediately secured and stored.
  • Refrigerators and freezer doors should not be opened excessively or be opened for extended periods of time.
    • A “DO NOT OPEN” sign should be posted on the device door.
    • There should be a well-documented list of all samples transferred to particular devices.
    • All device temperatures should be monitored in real time.

When the Power is Back IN YOUR FACILITY:

  • Check every device for signs of spills or leaks and document it.
  • Assess if there are any unusual odors across units.
  • Continue to monitor the temperature in cold storage units to ensure unit recovery
  • Check for any anomalies or deviations and reset the alarm notifications if necessary.
  • Ensure equipment is plugged in and has been reset, this will allow you to see if each device is functioning properly

Many things can go wrong in the lab, especially during a laboratory power outage. We cannot stress enough the importance of power consumption monitoring and the benefit of having an emergency plan to help mitigate risks and prevent sample loss. 

Learn how to prepare, respond, and recover from a lab disaster in this article:

Disaster Planning Guide