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Safety

U.S. academic biomedical labs said unready for disasters

NAS report outlines recommendations for preparation and recovery

by Britt E. Erickson
August 11, 2017

20170811lnp3-katrina.jpg
Credit: NOAA
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 left researchers scrambling to save laboratory animals, equipment, and irreplaceable samples.

The U.S. academic biomedical research community is ill-prepared for disasters such as hurricanes and cyber-attacks, concludes a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine. Institutions should prepare for the worst “to minimize the loss of important scientific discoveries” and protect the more than $150 billion in public and private funding invested each year in medical and health research, the Aug. 10 report says.

“Disasters that damage research laboratories and the institutions that house them can have enormous impacts on the safety and well-being of humans and research animals, on career trajectories, and on scientific progress,” says Georges C. Benjamin, chair of the committee that wrote the report and executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy impacted the health and safety of people and laboratory animals, damaged buildings, disrupted careers, led to the loss of data and equipment, and negatively affected research funding, the report finds. But despite these experiences, academic biomedical research institutions have not taken steps to ensure they will optimally recover if disaster strikes again.

The report provides several recommendations for academic biomedical research institutions to improve their ability to prepare for and recover from disasters. For example, it suggests designating a senior level individual to oversee disaster resilience, and requiring training in disaster resilience for students, staff, and faculty. The report also recommends that NIH lead an effort to discover ways that research sponsors can provide incentives for researchers to enhance their ability to deal with disasters.

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