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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
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Bio-facilities prepared for emergencies

Scott Rusk

The recent tornado cast a new light for some on the presence of the BRI -- Biosecurity Research Institute -- at Kansas State University. The storm, which caused millions of dollars in damage across campus, came within about a quarter-mile of the institute's home, Pat Roberts Hall.

Though the tornado had lost some of its steam by the time it reached campus, the damage to nearby buildings speaks to the strength of the storm. The majority of the K-State campus and surround mg areas lost power, so the fact that the Institute's electrical and other backup systems performed well is notable. Every real-world test adds to the ability to predict how it will perform in an even greater emergency. Had the institute sustained a direct hit, no doubt backup systems would have been tested more rigorously. Luckily, Pat Roberts Hall was built with such events in mind.

The Federal Emergency Management Act's Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters, July 2000, was used in planning and design of the BRI's biocontainment areas. The tornado resistance criteria applied to the institute are beyond the typical requirements for similar biocontainment facilities. Also, because the labs are inside the building's reinforced shell, the "box-within-a-box" design offers a secondary level of protection against high-force winds. The building was constructed with natural disasters common to Kansas in mind.

To keep the facility up and running, the institute is hooked into two different electrical substations. If both of those fail, a backup diesel generator capable of keeping all systems running would kick on. The generator can keep critical systems like air and waste handling running at full capacity, thus protecting the integrity of the research and keeping the community safe.

Should a tornado watch happen during the day with active research going on. Workers would be notified. They would prepare to suspend work involving infectious agents, secure them inside locked storage spaces and disinfect their work areas.

The institute has an incident response plan to address the unlikely case that containment is breached. A critical component of this plan is official and immediate notification of federal, state and local authorities. As a result, the public would also promptly be notified.

Questions about how the institute, operates when there is severe weather of course, relate to how the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility -- a larger animal disease research facility that could be built adjacent to the institute -- would do under similar circumstances.

Biocontainment facilities are constructed using the same standards, incorporating box-within-a-box design and the inclusion of redundant systems. They are all built to make them nearly impossible to breach, and factors like natural disasters are always taken into consideration. This would also be the case for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility.

Scott Rusk is director of K-State's Pat Roberts Hall, home to the Biosecurity Research Institute.

 

Published in the July 3, 2008 edition of the Manhattan Mercury.