Disaster Preparedness Policy

Office of the Vice President for Research - MUSC

From the Office of the Vice President for Research

This document is intended only as a practical guideline and information source for research programs in the event of a major disaster (e.g. hurricane, flood, fire, explosion, attack). 

These guidelines do not replace the official MUSC weather emergency information.

Each departmental unit, division, and office must have an emergency preparedness plan that is reviewed annually and discussed among members of the unit. 

However much one prepares for a major disaster from a professional standpoint, there will always be unexpected issues with which to contend.  Knowledge of established lines of communication is crucial to ensure some degree of continuity of research operations following major disasters. 

Disaster events may be without warning (e.g. fire, explosion, earthquake) or may allow advance notification such as with a hurricane. In all events there may be damage to buildings and short-term or extended loss of power.  Individuals may be away from their laboratory for several days in the event of mandatory evacuation. The key components of any plan are Advance Preparation, Communication, and Recovery.    

Only key personnel with numbered emergency badges approved through the Office of Risk Management (ORM) will be allowed to remain on campus in the event of a mandatory evacuation in advance of a hurricane.  The ORM will request a list of such designated personnel from each department in anticipation of a hurricane that is moving toward the Charleston area.

Typically non-designated personnel would be required to leave their labs when the Governor mandates closure of all state agencies in an impacted area AND senior leadership orders the closure of MUSC.  The order from the Governor would be expected 36 hours or more in advance of tropical storm-force winds.

It is critical that each person have a personal preparedness and evacuation plan in the event of an approaching hurricane. The public transit system will be unavailable in a mandated evacuation; therefore, individuals need to have alternative plans. Students and postdocs without such options should contact the Office of Student Programs in early spring to arrange transportation to a secure location in the event of severe weather.

Advance Preparation

  1. Communication Plan

    • Each principal investigator should create a Contact List for laboratory personnel.  Maintain electronic and hard copies at both work and home, as well as on file with departmental/divisional administration.
           Phone information (i.e. mobile, land-lines, office, home, and alternate phone numbers).  Text messaging often works when phones do not.
           Email address (office and alternate)
           Home and alternate (evacuation) addresses
    • Make sure that each member of your laboratory has a plan for evacuation of family and pets.   Remind lab personnel that weathering a storm or hurricane at MUSC is not allowed.
    • Each clinical trial group should provide enrolled patients with remote contact information if evacuation is required.
    • Be sure that there are no specially-keyed rooms in your laboratory area as in the event of a disaster, designated personnel must be able to access all rooms in the building.
    • Clearly list all special equipment safety precautions in the event personnel not familiar with equipment must access area. Include cell phone number of knowledgeable individuals.
    • Update essential vendor phone numbers/Web sites bookmarks.
    • Update information on funding organization/program officer contact info for funded research programs.
  2. Laboratory
    1. Lab organization
      • Maintain updated inventory of all perishable items.
      • Maintain updated laboratory map indicating function of individual rooms and location of freezers, refrigerators and liquid nitrogen dewars.  Copies should be a component of the departmental, division or office preparedness documentation.
      • Make sure each laboratory member is aware of inventory and lab map. 
      • In the event of an alert:
        • Organize research materials for easy access/retrieval under worst case conditions
          • LABEL (using weather resistant labels) most important materials and designate an emergency rack to be taken first
          • LABEL most valuable animal cages (DLAR will broadcast message to research community and provide glow in dark "sticky dots" for labeling essential cage carts prior to evacuation)
      • Consolidate essential laboratory records and copies of electronic data.  (see below)
      • Prepare and post an evacuation checklist for laboratory.
    2. Plan for extended loss of power
      Each research building has backup emergency power (Red outlets) via diesel fuel storage tanks and delivery systems. These systems are regularly tested.   In the event of a major hurricane, it is possible that the emergency power system will be interrupted for significant periods of time ranging from a few hours to days depending upon the specific building and the impact of the storm.    If emergency power is available, only emergency circuits will be functional.  General air conditioning systems to the research laboratories and elevator service will not be available until normal power is restored.
      • Identify emergency outlets (red plugs) in your laboratory and have heavy-duty extension cords available for refrigerators/freezers.
      • Be aware of the emergency generator power source for your area and the time period of emergency power provided from this source.
      • Duplicate stocks or samples that are temperature sensitive and considered crucial to the research mission should be stored at a remote site.  Consult with the Office of Research Integrity on your plans.
      • Liquid nitrogen storage:
        • Liquid nitrogen dewars are effective at protecting perishables in the event of extended power loss. 
        • Top off all liquid nitrogen dewars in advance of predicted storm.
        • Keep a full liquid nitrogen tank accessible on premises during hurricane season.  Back up tanks may be ordered in advance of predicted storm if time permits.
        • The large liquid nitrogen cooled freezer set ups can be problematic with extended loss of power.

Emergency Preparedness Plan Implementation

Monitor MUSC emergency web site for information and instructions in advance of storm.

  1. Implement Plan
    • Initiate communication with personnel per protocol/phone tree plan.
  2. Safeguard Equipment, Data and Materials
    1. Equipment:
      • Unplug equipment.
      • Do not unplug telephone or data network cables unless equipment must be moved (see below). If data network cables must be disconnected affix a label or tag to the cable to identify which specific piece of equipment it was connected to.
      • Move & Cover Equipment: Move equipment away from windows and off of the floor to avoid possible water damage.  Cover equipment securely with plastic sheeting (available from physical plant 2-4119) which will be positioned in a central location for each building.
    2. Computers:
      • Files saved to servers (e.g. Homeroom, ClinLAN servers) are backed up during the last regular backup cycle (usually nightly) and tape backups from OCIO-IS-managed servers are stored at a remote, secure site. Non-confidential data files and documents may also be copied from your computer to an external hard drive that can be taken with you upon evacuation.
      • Logout: Follow normal logoff/signoff procedures for computer systems.  Power Down: Power down (turn off and unplug) all computer related equipment including workstations, monitors and printers.
    3. Materials:
      • Take a copy of the lab inventory list and lab map with you upon evacuation.
      • For departments, divisions, units with multiple liquid nitrogen dewars it would be of value to put them in a pre-identified central location to facilitate access post event as needed.
      • Return animals to certified animal care facilities.
      • Do not maintain cell cultures and biological sample incubations during mandatory evacuation order.

Recovery/Continuity Plan

The steps taken for recovery of the research mission following a major disaster will depend upon the nature of the event. In any event, laboratory directors should follow their communication plan to keep track of laboratory personnel. Chairs and division heads should communicate with faculty.

  • In the event of a hurricane involving a mandatory evacuation or similar event, the Vice President for Research will assess any damage for subsequent communication with faculty, lab personnel, directors of research support and administration offices and major research funding sources.
  • To facilitate communication post-event, all individuals with research operations should access the Research portal link on the Public Safety or directly at MUSC Research.  As soon as possible post-event, this site will provide updates on any damages and actions being taken to address damages and preserve research materials.