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Boston Police, Fire to Visit Biolab Next Week

Orientation sessions will review standard and emergency procedures

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More than 400 first responders from Boston’s public safety agencies will visit the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on the Medical Campus next week for orientation sessions designed to familiarize them with the lab’s operating procedures, security systems, and emergency scenarios.

The orientation, organized by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), will include police and fire departments, the Massachusetts department of public health, and Boston’s departments of homeland security, transportation, and inspectional services.

The NEIDL is being built in Boston’s South End by the BU Medical Center with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers will study dangerous infectious diseases and develop diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines.

“Boston’s first responders need to have a familiarity with the facility, knowledge of its safety systems, and a relationship with NEIDL personnel in order to respond to an incident,” says Kevin Tuohey, BU’s executive director of research compliance. “They will be shown various parts of the facility and receive an orientation in unique building and system features that are important to the safe environment that has been constructed.”

The sessions, to be held from Wednesday, November 12, to Friday, November 14, will be led by instructors from Emory University, in Atlanta, Ga., one of the country’s leading first-response training institutions. Included will be a tour of the infectious diseases lab, a review of the alarm and security systems, an overview of day-to-day laboratory staff responsibilities, and the systems in place for emergency decontamination, disease control, and rescue operations.

“These will give first responders a chance to spend time with NEIDL and city officials, so they can become familiar with the laboratory and the coordination of standard operating procedures,” says Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Next week’s orientation will not involve any simulations of research or emergency responses. Full-scale training exercises involving safety agencies and the facility’s staff have been scheduled for February 2009.

Research at the NEIDL will not begin until a comprehensive environmental risk assessment is completed. A Blue Ribbon Panel of experts, appointed by the NIH, has been meeting since March in response to a National Academy of Sciences concern that an earlier risk assessment conducted by the NIH did not adequately identify worst-case scenarios. The orientation is part of BPHC’s plan to provide additional preparation for public health officials to ensure adherence to the biological safety regulations.

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