The morning started off as usual. I prepared for work and hit the freeway while most of Los Angeles was still asleep. It was early March, and there was a slight breeze and a light rain. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, not 2 hours later, a huge tree fell onto my house. Mother Nature sighed, and in the instant after she exhaled, the roof of my house caved in, the gutters and sprinklers came apart, the ceilings cracked, and rain poured directly into my son’s bedroom, rendering part of my house uninhabitable. Fortunately, no one was home at the time, so no one got hurt. However, it was another reminder of how life can turn in an instant and why it is important to be prepared for the unexpected.

We all tend to become complacent after a period of serenity. For example, most of us were sure that we would never feel safe again after 9/11. A change from yellow to orange in the federal terror alert system was enough to make me think twice about boarding a plane or keeping that appointment in a high-rise office building. But now, not 5 years later, even when I hear that Los Angeles was the target of a planned terrorist attack, it doesn’t give rise to the fear that it once did.

There are reminders every day about the importance of planning for the unexpected, and recent large-scale disasters have pointed to the potential for such events to overwhelm the medical community. One need only look at the poor planning that ultimately resulted in delays in rescue efforts and delivery of supplies following Hurricane Katrina.

Clinical labs should take note by preparing and implementing plans that will allow them to maintain services in an emergency. For example, there should always be enough supplies on hand to sustain the lab for a minimum of 1 week. There should be plans in place to monitor critical testing equipment during the emergency, and lab staff should be prepared for an increase in workflow.

The subject of our Lab Profile this month is a laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Franek Technologies corrected some power issues in the laboratory, and in discussing the challenges the company faces, Franek President Ray Hecker said, “As long as the lights are on and things seem to be running OK, people don’t think about electricity.” And that’s the way too many of us operate when it comes to emergency preparedness. It’s only when there are problems that we see the bigger picture and begin to look for solutions.

I, for one, am going to heed Mother Nature’s not-so-gentle reminder to take a broader view and be prepared. This includes organizing important documents, updating my home/car/office emergency kits, and having disaster drills and regular discussions with my family about disaster plans. You don’t have to wait for your own reminder; use my recent experience with the giant tree. Trust me: Mishaps don’t always happen to “other” people. Be prepared.

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Carol Andrews
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