By: Mendy Foster

Mendy Foster has a B.S. in Biochemistry from Indiana University and has over 15 years experience as a protein biochemist.


Mendy has served as a Laboratory Safety Specialist for the Office of Environmental Health and Safety since 2015.


E-mail Mendy at:


Lab Continuity Planning: Is your lab prepared?

Winter weather increases the chances for interruptions of lab activities. Interruptions may be triggered by lab flooding, loss of power or workers being unable to travel to campus. Low temperatures this winter have already resulted in frozen pipes and flooding in several buildings on campus. We have also experienced ice and snow that reduced the number of personnel able to reach campus. Now is a good time to review your department’s business continuity plan. If your department does not have a continuity plan, click here for more information. Make sure that 1) departmental awareness of critical research items and prioritization is up to date 2) emergency contact information is up to date and 3) workers know how to minimize research losses while maintaining safety.

To safely minimize research loss and health risks take a moment to walk through your lab and imagine a few common scenarios.

Imagine flooding in your lab. Are chemicals and waste routinely put away in storage cabinets or sealed to reduce the chances of contaminating flood waters? Are computers, electrical equipment or power strips elevated off of the floor to reduce the risk of shock or data loss? Is data regularly backed up onto servers at another location? Are paper notebooks in drawers or cabinets that would provide some shielding from water intrusion? Do workers know not to rush into a flooded lab until it has been cleared for entry?

Imagine that lab staff could not access your lab for 2-3 days due to a full or partial campus closure. Are lab workers aware of procedures that should be carried out ahead of foreseen events (snow storm)? Is your department head/ emergency research oversight committee aware of items that would be impacted by a prolonged period of inactivity (ie animals, materials, specimens or research products)? What items would be impacted by a prolonged power outage?

Recommended steps for emergencies with little warning time (ie tornado warning) and anticipated emergencies with more preparation time (ie predicted snow storm) outlined in the research continuity plan are provided below. Use your best judgment in implementing these items as worker safety takes precedence.

For emergencies when there is time for extensive shut-down procedures, the following should be implemented by each principal investigator, (as appropriate): **

  1. Preservation of cell lines and tissues. Anticipating a Campus Closure, lab personnel should ensure critical cell lines are frozen and placed into different locations and conditions to ensure continued maintenance. Ultra-low freezers and Liquid Nitrogen vessels can be used, and we suggest you spread your critical cell lines throughout the Department using multiple resources, if possible.
  2. Frozen materials. It is possible that some utilities may be lost during the duration of Campus Closure. This includes electricity to cold and warm rooms, freezers, and ultra-low freezers. We recommend that your ultra-low freezers be powered by emergency generator, monitored by alarm, and as your laboratory is secured, all freezers and refrigerators are taped shut and labeled as “Do Not Open”. All cold rooms, warm rooms, and freezers should have a “call list” or detailed instructions in case of an emergency.
  3. Liquid Nitrogen storage. We recommend that you place all critical cell lines in Liquid Nitrogen storage, and fill all vessels before you leave. Studies show that many cell lines will survive at extremely low temperatures without being submerged in Liquid Nitrogen, as long as vapor is present. Large vessels will retain vapor for many weeks if initially filled with Liquid Nitrogen. We also recommend that you have extra Liquid Nitrogen reservoir tanks available for filling vessels because delivery of additional tanks during or after a pandemic may not be available. As laboratories are vacated and secured, tape all liquid nitrogen vessels and label with “Do Not Open”.
  4. Equipment requiring replenishment of a utility. Unplug all non-essential equipment from electrical sources. This will prevent spikes and surges that may damage your equipment, and also will assist in prevention of overloading circuits during the time frame. Ensure that freezers and essential equipment are plugged into emergency sources if available. Incubators requiring gases such as carbon dioxide and/or nitrogen should be emptied if possible, leaving only those incubators with cell lines or tissue that cannot be frozen or stored. Keep in mind that you will probably not be able to feed any cell lines left in incubators so these must be long-term cultures that require little or no maintenance. Turn off empty incubators and equipment that are not needed, and turn off all gas supply. Labs should have extra CO2 and N2 cylinders in storage for those incubators required to run during the emergency. Before securing the lab, replace the gas supply with full cylinders, fill the humidity pans and the jackets with water, and tape the incubator shut. If absolutely critical, post a “call list” either on the equipment or the laboratory door that provides numbers for emergency contact.
  5. BSL3 facilities. BSL3 Laboratory Directors should already have Standard Operating Procedures to follow in case of loss of utilities such as electricity and HVAC. Work in these facilities should be discontinued during the emergency unless the School’s Emergency Research Oversight Committee gives special permission.
  6. Other Biological Materials. All biological materials must be placed in their appropriate storage area and secured at the time a lab is placed in hibernation. The appropriate biosafety containment procedures must be followed when material is placed into storage.
  7. Biologic waste should be disposed of using the appropriate method. All attempts should be made to decontaminate biologic waste prior to placing the laboratory in hibernation. If time does not permit, the material should be placed in sealed containers and clearly labeled as contaminated biologic waste.
  8. All non-essential equipment - water baths, incubators, hot plates and other heating equipment - must be turned off and unplugged.
  9. Research Plants. Provisions for the care of the research plants including watering, feeding, temperature considerations and lighting control must be made.
  10. Chemical Materials. All experiments involving hazardous chemicals must be halted during the laboratory hibernation. All chemical containers must be closed and stored properly. Special attention for the prolonged storage of the following materials must be considered: (1) reactive materials requiring inert atmosphere; (2) temperature sensitive materials; and (3) on-going production activity. All chemical waste must be properly labeled and secured.
  11. Radiological Materials. All radioactive materials must be placed in their appropriate storage areas and secured. All radiological waste must be properly labeled and secured.

For emergencies where laboratory closure does not permit extensive shut-down procedures, a rapid shut-down procedure should be implemented. Radioactive materials must be locked and secured. Toxic and/or hazardous chemicals must be removed from bench tops or other exposed areas, segregated and placed in their appropriate storage space. Biologic waste should be disposed of using appropriate methods for the material. If time does not permit, the materials should be labeled as contaminated waste and placed in containers that will minimize the chance for leakage during the emergency. Non-essential equipment should be turned off, and essential equipment should be plugged into outlets that provide electricity through back-up generators (red plugs). Equipment that may be damaged by power surges should be unplugged, if possible. Critical paperwork should be stored in desk drawers or cabinets.

Please ensure your continuity plans are updated and you are prepared should an emergency strike your lab.

Lab Notes is a quarterly publication by IUPUI Environmental Health and Safety. Lab Notes is designed, edited and published by K. Lee Stone.

"Don't Learn Laboratory Safety by Accident!"