Weather Preparedness: Hey, How’s That Weather?

It seems like people who live in Minnesota love to talk about the weather. We are always commenting on needing more rain, that it’s too cold, or that a blizzard is on its way. Weather, however, is no trivial matter, particularly when it comes to how it can impact our community, business, and personal lives.

April 17 through 21 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota. While it's important to be prepared in any situation, it's essential to be safe in the laboratory during severe weather. What can a laboratory do to be prepared for a weather emergency?

  • Identify the types of weather events that are common in your area, such as tornadoes, blizzards, extreme heat or cold, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc. Identifying the weather emergency is the first step in developing a plan so that you can anticipate the impact (if any) of that event on your lab’s operations.
  • Identify the areas of your lab’s operations where there may be an impact because of weather. Here are a few to consider:
    • A blizzard (for example) can prevent staff from traveling to work. This can impact specimen collection, testing, and adequate coverage for several work shifts.
    • Heavy rain/flooding can impact staff travel, but it can also impact shipping and transport of specimens and supplies to and from the lab.
    • A tornado or earthquake can take out power that will impact your laboratory's instruments/freezers/refrigerators, lighting, and ambient temperature.
    • Severe cold can cause water lines to freeze and burst, which can lead to flooding in your laboratory areas.
    • Extreme heat can affect specimen stability during transport.
  • If you can identify the threats and impacts to your operations, you can work on ways to either minimize the impact or determine alternative processes to use if one of your key operations were to fail.
  • Develop a written emergency plan that identifies the weather threats, the impacts, and the plan/steps that will be implemented if an emergency situation occurs.
  • Be sure to include a recovery plan that addresses how you will bring your lab back into full operation after the impact of an emergency event, such as recovery of instruments, testing data and results, electronic entry of data that may have been documented using a paper process during an outage, disposal of specimens that may no longer be viable because of temperature extremes, etc.
  • Partner with your colleagues at other facilities to see what they have for plans and if you can work together if an emergency occurs. Neighboring buildings or businesses may be able to provide safe shelter locations if your lab/facility doesn’t have any. If your lab is part of hospital or other larger health care facility, make sure you work with those staff members when developing your plan—they may already have a plan in place that you can use, and they may be able to help you understand your facility’s structure, redundancies, emergency power, and backup systems.
  • Communicate the plan to your employees. They need to know where the plan can be found, the details of the plan, and their role before, during, and after the emergency.
  • Drill and practice the plan. Don’t let your hard work end of gathering dust on a back shelf. Emergency plans need to be reviewed periodically (I would suggest at least annually) to make sure that the threats and response plans haven’t changed and that key players and their roles are still accurate. Take a few minutes out of your lab’s day and practice the plan; don’t just talk about it. Actually walking through the activities can show you where there may be gaps in the planning or in employee knowledge. Walking through it also allows everyone to work together to understand how each person affects the overall process and the outcome.
  • Be sure to document your drills, discussions, and any actual events so that you can learn what went well and where you need to make changes.

Don’t just have a weather emergency plan for work. Keep your loved ones safe with a plan for them. Just as you did for the weather emergency plan at work, use those concepts when putting together your plan for at home. Young children, elderly family members, and pets may need special considerations such as safe places, alternative caregivers, medication management, communication methods, and food. Your local/state health department can be a great resource for information on community-shelter sites, pet-friendly locations, and other resources for weather emergencies in your locale.

Severe Weather and Preparedness Information and Resources:

There are many great resources on weather preparedness, but here are a few that I have found to be interesting and great to share with our employees so that they can prepare at work and at home:

I hope the weather is great in your neck of the woods because I’m looking out the window right now, and it’s a lovely, sunny spring day in Minnesota—except for that little cloud in the west and the wind is picking up . . . .

Have a safety question? Let me know in the comments below on what you want to hear about in the next post.

Pat Hlavka

Pat Hlavka is a Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. She received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an M.S. degree in Safety from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Pat worked as a safety professional in the industrial setting (IBM and Benchmark Electronics) for over 15 years. Since joining the Mayo Clinic in 2008, her responsibilities have focused on laboratory safety including the safety audit program, developing and maintaining documentation, training, communications, awareness, incident investigation, laboratory safety committees, and emergency management.