Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Prepared for Unexpected Year- Round

Article excerpt

Oklahomans may be thinking about springtime disaster preparedness, but for research labs and hospitals, being prepared for the unexpected is a year-round reality.

Advances in technology mean better safeguards for all aspects of health care, from life support backup for laboratory mice to Fort Knox-type protection for patients' electronic medical records.

At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), several layers of backup power will keep the facility running if the electricity goes down, said Justin Simmons, safety officer. In addition to backup generators, the OMRF building is plumbed for natural gas and has an underground propane storage tank that can keep everything going at full speed for 72 hours, he said. Engineers are on site around the clock to ensure nothing goes wrong.

"There are over 5,000 alarm points so they know if the temperature drops, the humidity is too high or the freezers are too warm," Simmons said.

The OMRF also is installing a speaker system in every room so that staff members can be notified in case of a tornado, he said.

Ensuring the safety and hygiene of mice used in research also is crucial because they represent lengthy, expensive and potentially groundbreaking studies of diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to multiple sclerosis. The OMRF currently has more than 9,000 mice being used in its facility. The majority of the mice are in OMRF's main barrier facility, where access is restricted and staff who enter must take an "air shower" and wear sterile scrubs and shoe covers.

Each mice cage has its own life-support backup. The rodents' acidified water also is monitored with ultraviolet sterilization and its pH level checked every day, Simmons said. The OMRF buys sterile bedding for the mice, but it is filtered and sterilized again before being put in cages. Staff members have online access to the conditions of each cage, and if the facility were to be without water, a cache of hydration gel packs are available.

"Safety equates to good science," Simmons said.

Laboratory personnel take their own precautions when conducting research, Simmons said, but if a tornado were to damage the building and send the research into the atmosphere, the public wouldn't be at risk, Simmons said. OMRF mostly operates at Biosafety Level 2, one of four levels specified by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. …