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Preparing for the Future With Laboratory Resilience

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Over the past year, laboratories and research facilities have experienced unprecedented changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lab owners and operators had to make signification changes to daily operations. Facility managers had to conduct maintenance to make labs safe for occupants. And architects and engineers had to think about how to incorporate new safety measures into lab design and ventilation systems. The possibility of more pandemics, along with the effects of climate change, will affect how labs are designed, built, and operated in the future. The sustainable lab community can best prepare for these future likelihoods by incorporating resilience into their lab design, management, and operations. Resilience can help labs address their vulnerabilities and anticipate change so that they can still thrive during future emergencies rather than just survive. To help laboratory designers, engineers, owners, operators, and users better understand the concept of resilience, volunteer members of the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) created the Laboratory Resilience Best Practices Guide.

Planning for lab resilience means recognizing the existence of ever-evolving and increasingly complex disruptors, such as pandemics or significant weather events. Resilience planning may look different depending on the type of facility, i.e., a teaching lab versus a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) lab, but the key concepts can be applied comparably. Resilience can be broken into three key focus areas.

  • During the event (response period) includes addressing immediate health and safety concerns, modifying operations to prioritize critical needs, and increasing resilience of staff.

  • After the event (recovery period) includes sharing lessons learned, recognizing and addressing areas of failure, and developing scenarios to prepare for the future.

  • The transformation period includes innovating solutions, creating a culture that allows for flexibility and change, planning and designing for future uncertainty, and creating strategies that are implemented before disruptor events occur.

A key factor of laboratory resilience is examining deferred maintenance. While some maintenance, especially preventative maintenance, may seem less urgent and therefore not dealt with immediately, it can cause significant problems when unexpected disruptors arise. To make facilities safe for employees during COVID-19, many labs had to address their deferred maintenance, and these projects often included high overhead costs. Incorporating resilience into your lab’s management may mean addressing some deferred maintenance to lessen the impact and cost of anticipated disruptors in the future.

The new I2SL best practice guide on resilience, co-authored by Lisa Churchill, Climate Advisory; George Karidis, SmithGroup; and Jacob Werner, Perkins&Will, provides a high-level framework for resilience, applications for laboratories, planning and design considerations, and a checklist to start applying a resilience approach to your lab. The guide also includes 15 case studies from 11 different firms. If you have a resilience case study under 200 words you’d like to share, please email it to I2SL and note that it is a resilience case study.

View a webinar recording about the new Resilience guide free of charge for I2SL members and for a small fee for non-members. You can also learn more about the guide during the authors’ talk at the 2021 I2SL Annual Conference, September 26-29 in Atlanta. Registration is now open, so don’t miss your chance to learn more about resilience and other hot topics, like lessons learned from COVID-19, smart labs, and diversity equity, justice, and inclusion. Please email I2SL with any questions.

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