Device malfunction can sometimes be quite funny (to some individuals). Two weeks ago students in the pedagogy laboratory had initiated a run of a 12-year old ultracentrifuge. While the students were preoccupied with the experiment at hand, a crashing sound was heard from the centrifuge and metal bolts started to fly all over the place. “It was so funny, seeing the centrifuge shaking, rumbling and spitting metal parts all over the place like a crazy beast that I just could not move” said the undergrad that was present at that time “eventually, we managed to evacuate from the room till the centrifuge had “relaxed” and stopped moving.” Luckily, no one got hurt.
Assigning Responsibility & Crisis Team
In many cases the worst malfunctions are those that happen to communal storage devices while no lab members are present. When a malfunctioning fully packed -80 degree freezer suddenly loses it’s temperature controller, this is a major issue that can lead to loss of years of hard work. That’s not funny!
The best way to handle a crisis is to assign responsibility to lab members and setting up a crisis team. Each lab member should have responsibility for a certain device and in case there is a malfunction he/she should inform the lab manager/PI and call a technician. In cases of communal storage devices (freezers, fridge, incubators etc.), these devices should be coupled to a telephone alarm (preferably calling the lab manager). A crisis team, made of 2-3 lab mates and the lab manager, should be setup beforehand and should include individuals that live close by that can reach the lab within the hour. It’s important to have other lab members backing up the crisis team in case one of the team members is away from the lab. This can be communicated through emails or through BioData’s internal messaging, which also serves as the nervous system for real time updates on the current assigned team members and devices status. But that’s not enough – the lab manager should also coordinate a temporary storage device in another laboratory that the specimen could be rushed to in case of a failure.
There are times when you need a fire squad and not a crisis team. Fires in labs are the most devastating human-related disasters and the only way to prepare for a fire is to make backups. Such backups can constitute of couple of boxes containing a single copy of the original specimen, well documented, and placed off site to the lab’s storage device, preferably in a different building (and most probably, in a different lab). The best way to generate such a backup box is to do it on the go (for example, prepare double glycerol stocks and split them among the different storage places). Document well the exact place of each tube so in case of crisis you won’t look at a mass of tubes that will look back at you. With BioKM this can done easily with addition of another storage box defined as off-site backup, with the contact numbers of the person who is in charge of that storage device.
Probably the least ‘backup-ed’ item in the lab is the most important part of science making: the lab notebook. Let’s face it, most grad students that have an organized lab notebook put it on the shelf at the end of hard working day and leave the lab without looking back. How many actually do a photo-copy of each day’s work and store it in their PI’s office? I would take a guess that this number would be very low. Think about the case of a fire incident in the lab and one realizes that lab notebook backup is the most important backup you should do every day. Using BioData’s web based lab management system, however, saves the day. While the fire can burn the server in your lab where all your data is stored, BioData has secure servers, protected and backed up at three different location. BioData makes sure your experiments, data analysis and any other information is safely stored. Much safer than the lab notebook on the shelf, don’t you agree?
Want to share with us catastrophes that took place in other labs/universities? Join the discussion!
Chen Guttman is a Graduate Student at the Zarivach lab in Ben Gurion University. Chen blogs at benchwise and serves as BioData's community liason.