A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) calls for stepped up mitigation efforts to protect biomedical research facilities from natural and man-made disasters.

Released just weeks before Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida and parts of the Caribbean, the timely NAS report discussed the impact in prior years of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters on research institutions and the design flaws and general practices that lead to serious decimation in facilities.

“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,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, chair of the report’s authoring committee and executive director of the American Public Health Association, in a statement. Placing research animals in basements and generators on low floors, or failing to institute a viable emergency plan, is an example of poor system practices or flaws that result in damage to an institution.

“Continuing scientific advancement and the promise of future discoveries will require a commitment to resilience—and an unparalleled partnership across the emergency management and academic research sectors,” Benjamin said.

The report outlined 10 recommendations that research institutions in the biomedical community should take to strengthen disaster resilience:

1.   Designate an experienced individual to oversee disaster resilience efforts and lead a planning committee that would develop resilience goals specific to the needs of the institution;

2.   Establish comprehensive and integrative disaster resilience planning efforts at the local, state, and national levels, such as compiling up-to-date threat and hazard identification and risk assessments relevant to the institution;

3.   Engage in partnerships with local, state, and national agencies to meet the unique resilience needs of research enterprises, including laboratory conditions;

4.   Work with principal investigators to preserve research data, samples, and reagents, ensuring backup of critical data and methodologies and storing duplicate data in a remote location;

5.   Develop mandatory disaster resilience education and training programs for research students, faculty, and staff;

6.   Improve disaster resilience efforts to protect the lives of research animals, such as including fail-safe criteria in vivarium design;

7.   Create performance-based standards for facilities;

8.   Develop a financial investment strategy for disaster resilience, which may include commercial disaster insurance or other types of insurance; and

9.   Convene a stakeholders’ consortium headed by the National Institutes of Health to discuss disaster resilience enhancement.

The 10th recommendation calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to recognize the academic biomedical research community as a subsector of the Healthcare and Public Health Critical Infrastructure Sector, which aims to protect the economy from infectious disease outbreaks, terrorism, and other disasters.