US biomedical-research facilities unprepared for attacks and natural disasters
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, the storm destroyed scientific equipment worth more than US$20 million at the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center. Tropical Storm Allison hit the University of Texas Health Science Center (UT Health) in Houston in 2001, and caused so much damage that some researchers had to restart their careers elsewhere. Despite such catastrophes, a report published on 10 August finds that many research institutions in the United States are still unprepared for disasters.
The report, released by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, looked at what happened to research facilities during past disasters, interviewed people about how they had changed their current policies and procedures and consulted with experts on disaster and risk management. It recommends that universities and scientists take steps to protect biomedical research from emergencies on all scales, including natural disasters, fire, cyber-attacks and terrorism.
Biomedical research is especially vulnerable to disasters, says the report’s lead author Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a non-profit organization in Washington DC. Although insurance companies may cover expensive machinery, resources such as strains of genetically engineered mice and cells are irreplaceable, and it is difficult for insurance companies to quantify their value. Researchers at NYU lost 35,000 mice, including 751 different lines of genetically modified animals that existed nowhere else.