Sustainability Scoop – September 2019

Climate Resiliency Planning Prepares Laboratories for Future Unknowns

After a hurricane like Dorian that just ravanged the Bahamas, are you worried about work stoppage, experiment integrity, and worker well-being in laboratories? You should be! Laboratory operations face threats from various potential disrupters, from climate-related weather events to energy supply interuptions.

Image of hurricane damage at Florida International University

Resiliency planning, or the ability to recover quickly from disruptors, can prepare labs to withstand whatever may occur. Designing and planning for climate change resiliency can help facilities recover from short-term events such as hurricanes and prepare for longer-term stressors such as rising sea levels while working to minimize potential impacts.

In 2017, weather and climate disasters cost the U.S. economy more than $306 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; that figure includes physical damage to buildings and the material assets within them, as well as losses from business interruption and infrastructure damage. Severe impacts from weather disasters, combined with the lagging state of U.S. infrastructure, underscores the importance of long-term resiliency planning and investments.

Labs can use the following general framwork to begin their climate resiliency planning:

  • Identify exposure. Labs should be prepared to adapt to coastal flooding, increased precipitation, temperature changes, and climate-related events. Vulnerabilities may also be external, involving systems such as transportation or telecommunications.
  • Translate that exposure into potential impacts. Loss of power, communication, internet, or water supply could jeopardize financially valuable experiments. These events could also restrict employee access to the lab, make equipment unable to shut down safely, or cause physical damage to facilities or mechanical systems.
  • Prioritize risk. Labs have various critical operations, including data centers and vivarium or biocontainment facilities. Rank financial and practical impacts to prioritize risk or conduct failure analyses to determine how to focus responses.
  • Devise solutions. Climate mitigation measures include making external equipment able to withstand high winds, protecting emergency generators, having backup air conditioning systems to cool critical spaces, and increasing building sump capacity.
  • Find funding. While preparing for extreme weather may seem costly, engineering and design firm Arup found that the overall return on resiliency investment for one client was $3 to $15 per every $1 invested over a 30-year period, based on business and operational impacts such as lost production or revenue from staff not working.

Hurricane Maria Makes the Case

Puerto Rico, where 11 of the world's top 20 pharmaceutical products are produced, tested the resilience of pharmaceutical manufacturers when Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. Any operational disruption, including loss of cells that produce antibodies and physical damage to facilities, could have greatly impacted the global drug supply chain. Most Puerto Rican drug companies were able to get their facilities operating within two weeks on average, however, due to existing FDA requirements on these types of manufacturers. But the pharmaceutical industry isn't resting on its resiliency laurels; a recent Chemical & Engineering News article outlined their priorities for the future:

  • Develop more robust telecommunications requirements for each facility and create backups for the backups, such as having satellite phones, high-frequency radios, microwave technology, satellite dishes, and hybrid systems using renewable energy and battery power.
  • Invest in more powerful backup power systems to support full facility operations, such as cogeneration plants that provide both heat and power. After Hurricane Maria, one company ran on diesel fuel from an emergency generator for 120 days. However, since diesel engine repair and deliveries could be compromised, consider hybrid power systems with larger battery banks that do not require diesel fuel.
  • Create contingency plans for suppliers as well. High-purity gases such as oxygen were diverted from pharmaceutical companies to hospitals after Maria.

Check out the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) High-Tech Talks webinar, "Resilience Considerations for Science and Industry," presented by Lisa Dickson and Hilary Williams of Arup. I2SL members can view the presentation for free by navigating the Member Portal, and nonmembers can pay to view a recording in the Training Archive. For more information about renewable energy's role in resiliency, check out this article on page 14 of Solar Today.

Photo of Hurricane Irma damage, courtesy of Florida International University.