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Continuity of Research Operations

UTHSC’s campus administration continues to monitor, closely, the COVID-19 situation. Basic laboratory and clinical research infrastructure support remains currently active. Should State or Federal authorities require a partial shutdown of research operations, UTHSC leadership will communicate any future disruptions to the research enterprise at that time.

Researchers are advised to plan now for emergency scenarios that may include, but are not limited to, a decrease in the availability of lab personnel, possible disruptions in laboratory supply chains, as well as a total suspension of all research activities. It should be emphasized that while we hope contingency measures will not be needed, proper planning reduces the impact, should it become required.

Continuity Plans

Continuity plans should consider operational impacts from disruptions both upstream and downstream of the lab. At a minimum, labs should operationally consider:

  • Create a staffing and essential duty coverage plan: prepare for a reduced number of staff by cross training personnel on essential functions
  • Create an emergency contact list: Review and update contact information for personnel and key contacts. Ensure proper distribution of the list (e.g., Chairs business manager etc.)
  • Prepare personnel to work remotely: Consider performing work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis, off campus. Ensure personnel have the appropriate home infrastructure to do so. Please see the resource from our ITS department that may be helpful to those working remotely: https://uthsc.edu/its/remote-work/.
  • Lab equipment: Determine if there is any equipment that cannot be shut down and equipment that requires routine monitoring such as liquid nitrogen tanks, freezers, and incubators. How will they be monitored?
  • Supply Chain: Ensure that adequate supply of materials (e.g. reagents, PPE, etc.) is on hand or accessible. Identify alternative vendors in the event of shortages. Secure hazardous materials (e.g., radioactive materials) and store hazardous materials and waste in the appropriate environment (e.g., containment, shielding, etc) in case access is not available for an extended period.
  • Prioritize: Assess and prioritize critical laboratory activities. Identify personnel able to safely perform essential activities. Research staff should be cross-trained and complete institutional compliance requirements to fill in for others who may be unavailable to come to work. (For example, cross-trained personnel entering LACU facilities must fulfill all IACUC requirements necessary for entering these facilities.)

Laboratory Animal Care Unit

Researchers can plan for LACU facilities to remain open. LACU facilities are staffed by essential personnel and they will continue caring for the animals on campus by performing daily health checks, feeding animals and changing cages, as usual. Any changes in schedules that may be implemented due to staff shortages will be communicated to investigators via the LACU listserve email. PIs should familiarize themselves with the “Save in Emergency" cards that are now present in all animal housing rooms. These cards can be placed on any of your cages that are considered irreplaceable (e.g. unique strains, animals not commercially available, animals on study etc). As part of laboratory contingency planning, PIs should critically evaluate their current census, breeding programs, and both near and long-term needs.

Laboratory Closure Plan

An action plan should be created in the event that a lab needs to be closed. These plans should address, at least, the following topics:

  • Information posted on the outside of the entrance doors, is up to date. This includes both hazard warnings and personnel contact information.
  • General chemicals and reagents have been removed from laboratory benches and shelves, when applicable, and placed into appropriate containment and storage.
  • Ensure that all high-risk materials (radioactive materials, chemicals, biohazards) are properly labeled and secured.
    For example:
    • Flammable materials stored in an appropriate location.
    • Incompatible materials are segregated by hazard class.
  • Hazardous chemical waste, radioactive waste and biohazardous waste has been labeled and a waste pickup requested (chemical and radioactive waste) or packaged in a Stericycle box (i.e. biohazard waste) and removed from the lab.
  • Compressed gas cylinders are secured, in an upright position, with regulators removed and protective caps installed. If appropriate, disconnect compressed gas cylinders from CO2 incubators and other nonessential equipment.
  • Non-essential equipment turned off
  • All items are removed from window ledges.
  • Containers stored above floor level in case of water events (e.g. sprinkler discharge, flooding, etc.)
  • Check liquid nitrogen (LN2) container and assign the responsibility to maintain the level of LN2 to ensure sample preservation.
  • Arrangements made for the protective care of research animals, (see above). Proper shutdown procedures for equipment is in place and performed.
  • Proper power backup systems in place, where applicable. Is your critical equipment tied into the emergency backup?
  • Ensure that intellectual property (lab notebooks, ledgers, CDs) has been removed or is safely stored.

If you have additional questions or would like Research Safety Affairs to review and provide feedback on your continuity of operations plan or temporary lab closure plan, please email us at labsafety@uthsc.edu.

Last Published: Mar 20, 2020