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Safety and Security

The RBL has incorporated special engineering and design features to prevent microorganisms from being released into the environment and unauthorized access to the laboratory. Numerous physical and procedural safety and decontamination features provide multiple layers of protection for lab workers and the surrounding environment.

Design and Construction

The RBL has been designed and constructed according to strict standards for the construction of BSL3 facilities required by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

The National Institutes of Health requires stringent review of the design, construction, commissioning and certification of the RBL. See FAQ #16.

Special engineering and design features include:

  • Location - the BSL3 laboratories are internal labs inside the building shell. One must pass through multiple levels of security and engineering controls to enter the BSL3 containment areas.
  • Air handling - The RBL has its own air handing system. The airflow for the BSL3 labs is negative, meaning all of the air flows from outside the BSL-3 labs and into the labs through a series of closed spaces to the most interior space. The air is then HEPA filtered before being released from the building. The air is single pass and is not ever re-circulated to the rest of the BSL3 lab or any other part of the building. This ensures that any potentially contaminated air cannot be released from the facility without being filtered.
  • Decontamination - all trash and biological waste generated in the BSL-3 laboratories must be decontaminated before it leaves the facility. Uncontaminated liquid waste, such as mop bucket water, is treated chemically before it goes down the drain. Solid waste and any material that has come in contact with infectious agents must be sterilized by autoclaving (high heat at high pressure). Sterilized waste is then packaged for removal by a medical waste contractor.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - All personnel entering the BSL3 laboratories must put on personal protective equipment. This includes at minimum tyvek jump suits, masks, gloves and head bonnets. Personnel working in some laboratories will be required to wear scrubs under their PPE and shower out. All laboratories have the shower out capabilities.
  • Security and Access control is a very important aspect of the RBL and is described below.
  • Containment equipment - Special equipment is used by researchers inside the facility when manipulating infectious agents. This equipment ensures that infectious material remains in sealed containers and is not released into the air inside the facility. This protects the researchers working inside the BSL3. In the event of an accident or equipment malfunction, the personal protective equipment worn by the researcher would serve to protect the person long enough so they could safely exit the facility. The air handling system would then safely filter the air to remove any contaminant and the laboratory would then be gas decontaminated to remove any surface contamination.
  • Earthquake - the RBL has been designed to resist earthquake loads in accordance with the International Building Code.


Campus and community law enforcement officers and other first responders will receive special training on security and safety issues involving the laboratory; and security staff will be increased. Emergency Response Procedures must be established and drilled on an annual basis. A team of first responders including UTHSC personnel, the Memphis Fire Department, the Memphis Police Department, the Memphis Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and the Memphis Shelby County Health Department work together to ensure that emergency response and safety plans are appropriate and can be executed efficiently.

The RBL and the research performed in the RBL must comply with several Federal Regulations including: DHHS and USDA regulations (DHHS 42 CFR 73, APHIS 7 CFR 331, 9 CFR 121, and CDC/NIH BMBL5). The facility, the procedures and practices used in the facility and record keeping will be inspected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure compliance with federal regulations before the facility becomes operational and every 3 years there after.

All research procedures performed in the facility must be approved by the UTHSC Institutional Biosafety Committee and the BSL-3 committee before work begins.

All personnel must receive special training in BSL-3 practices and enroll in the medical surveillance program before working in the facility.

Last Published: Sep 30, 2016