It’s 3:00 in the morning on a Saturday.
The cell phone by your bedside starts ringing and wakes you.
You try to switch on the light before answering the call, but it won’t turn on.
On the other line is a colleague from the laboratory facility you manage frantically detailing that the power has been out for the last few hours.
As a Laboratory or Facilities Manager this might be one of the worst case scenarios you can think of. Scrambling to ascertain all the details of the power outage, while simultaneously determining the appropriate personnel on your team to address the ongoing issues with equipment and facility conditions is challenging. Ensuring that your laboratory’s power outage contingency plan is effective is an important step to mitigate the risks involved with a power outage.
There are many potential hazards that can occur during a facility-wide power outage. A power outage and loss of power in electrical equipment has the potential to produce dangerous situations that can be hazardous to employees in the area and destroy research. Toxic chemical vapors or flammable materials might leak out of refrigerators and freezers if chemicals warm up from the equipment’s power failing. Also, samples, reagents, or certain reactive materials may be damaged if warmed beyond particular thresholds.
Proactive planning and preventive maintenance can help to mitigate loss and potential hazardous situations during an extended power outage. Alternate power sources, such as backup generators, as well as materials like dry ice, can be used to prevent refrigerator and freezer contents from warming too much.
Monitoring functionality of main and alternate power sources, as well as other key facility components such as HVAC systems is another important aspect to a power outage plan. By implementing a real-time monitoring solution for backup generators and HVAC systems, lab and facility personnel can better identify any root cause issues and whether key systems are working to protect valuable 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 power outage.
Having a detailed checklist associated to 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
Before the Power Goes Out:
- The appropriate personnel should know the location of emergency lighting and other necessary equipment (i.e. flashlights, glow sticks, etc.).
- There should be a detailed list of equipment that needs attention, or could be damaged, in the event of a power surge when power is brought back.
- Include details for any device that is equipped with an automatic “ON” switch, that may turn on when no one is around to monitor it.
- Include a list of all of temperature sensitive samples, assets and reagents, with the storage parameters that must be maintained to protect from being damaged or destroyed by an increase in temperature
- There should be a detailed list of all of the equipment containing your specimens (i.e. refrigerators, freezers, etc.).
- All refrigerators, freezers, incubators, and other equipment should be properly maintained and routinely calibrated. All relevant laboratory staff should know:
- How to accurately monitor temperature in each device.
- How to address alarm notifications and ensure proper alarm functionality.
- How to ensure inner lining is intact. Many refrigerators and freezers can keep temperature steady for up to 10 hours if closed and sealed properly.
- Additional procedures to keep samples safe in the event of a power outage.
- Dividing samples in different devices—storing separate collections of experiment samples in other locations, and if possible protected from the same power outage is a fail-safe to maintain necessary samples.
- Detail refrigerators, freezers, and other cold storage devices in the laboratory, and any other labs nearby if available, that might be equipped with backup power, or storage devices that would less affected by a power outage during the interim, devices that utilize CO2 or liquid nitrogen could be used to plan temporary transfers of previous samples.
When the Power Goes Out:
- Stick to the plan. Laboratory staff and appropriate personnel that are well-prepared and trained in all steps of a power outage contingency plan will ensure that risks are mitigated and important scientific assets 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 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:
- Check each device for any signs of spills or leaks, also if there are any unusual odors.
- Continue to monitor temperature in cold storage units. Check for any anomalies or deviations and reset alarms notifications if necessary.
- Ensure all equipment has been properly plugged in and reset, and that each device is functioning properly
It is important to have an emergency plan in place to mitigate the risks when a power outage occurs, but unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong in the lab.
Take the 5-minute survey below to determine if your lab assets are exposed to unnecessary risks.