Public Health Preparedness & Response

Safety First

By Sikha Singh, specialist, Laboratory Response Network

Last month I had the privilege of observing the Emory University Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense (SERCEB) BSL3 Science and Safety course, with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of how this program addresses the needs of biosafety professionals and laboratorians.

Instructor Sean Kaufman and his team offer an innovative teaching environment, utilizing a combination of lectures and interactive discussions coupled with a focus on and acknowledgement of behavioral aspects that may impact biosafety environments.

A mock scenario: You are suited up in a high-containment laboratory, working under the hood with a select agent. Fire alarms sound. React. The room shakes. React. The power goes out. React. The route to safety is obstructed. React. Your colleague has fallen to the floor. React again. Repeat.

This insertion of “noise” into a once familiar environment followed by candid feedback on how to consciously respond in panic situations serves as a compelling mechanism of provoking behavioral responses. Drills, performed in conditions both routine and threatening, reinforce to participants the importance of safeguarding the integrity of their secure environment as well as the agents with which they work.

I was extremely impressed by this course, which succeeds in making difficult and cumbersome material interactive by engaging participants. Training activities such as this course are vital tools to prepare laboratorians to safely work with and contain dangerous pathogens.

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