Planning for natural disasters can save years of research materials
Friday, Aug 30th 2013

Research labs are increasingly sensitive to change and with natural disasters, a severe alteration to the environment could damage and even destroy all of their work. Having a plan in place to preserve data and ongoing research projects is necessary for research labs to continue their studies without worrying about losing the samples.

At Mississippi State University, there is always the potential for tornadoes, hurricanes and floods to strike, however, the college has created a strategy to better protect research projects. Emergency power generators are always at the ready for power outages and the cryogenic freezer has a tank of liquid nitrogen to help maintain the temperature, according to the university. Many of the samples are critical and can't be replaced, making it necessary for the lab to be prepared for all eventualities. These systems were activated during the 2011 tornadoes in the area that knocked out the power to multiple facilities. Observing regular temperature monitoring, the researchers were able to ensure that the samples remained in the appropriate conditions throughout the outage.

"Quite often, researchers have several months or even years invested in their work," head of basic sciences at MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Stephen Pruett said. "It would be devastating if something were to happen to their data or samples."

Keeping projects under control
While natural disasters are unpredictable, there are ways to prepare for them. However, if there are malfunctions in the freezers, specimen could be lost. This was the situation that affected McLean Hospital in 2012 and damaged autism brain samples. The freezer is typically kept at minus 80 degrees Celsius, however, due to a malfunction, the external thermostat on the appliance read consistent temperature when the actual environment was at 7 degrees, according to The Boston Globe. The samples thawed out and were then unusable. Implementing a professional temperature sensor can ensure that research specimens are always stored in the appropriate conditions and will send constant updates to detail the freezer's environment.

"Research represents a fabulous investment of time, money and resources into our future and livelihood," MSU assistant professor for community preparation and disaster management Ryan Akers said. "These contingency plans must be carefully thought out, properly designed prior to the onset of any project, no matter the size -- and meticulously followed. As with most any emergency situation, not allowing for the proper prevention and preparation protocols to protect valuable work could be most unfortunate in the event of a disaster."