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Simulation Exercises Scheduled for Biolab

Research and emergency exercises to take place in February 2009

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A series of training exercises involving police, fire, and other safety agencies has been scheduled for early next year at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) now being built on the Boston University Medical Campus. Facility researchers and technicians will collaborate with public safety personnel, regulatory agencies, and community residents to hold full-scale simulations of scientific operations and of emergency responses.

While no actual research will take place — and no biological or chemical agents will be used in the simulation — NEIDL officials say that the exercise provides an opportunity to refine safety procedures as administrators wait for approval from federal and state agencies.

“Until the regulatory and judicial processes are complete, no research will take place in the lab,” says Mark Klempner, Conrad Wesselhoeft Professor of Medicine, Medical Campus associate provost for research, and the principal investigator for the National Institutes of Health–funded project. “This training period also will provide an opportunity for the community to learn more about how biosafety in research labs is carried out and about the many safety protocols in place in place to protect our scientists and the community from harm.”

The research simulations will cover each step in the scientific process that leads to acquiring data for published research, as well as internal and external incident responses. The intent, Klempner says, is to familiarize both regulatory agencies and community residents with the step-by-step process for conducting research at the NEIDL, as well as to test health and safety measures.

Construction on the laboratory will be done at the end of August, but research will not begin until a comprehensive environmental risk assessment is completed. A Blue Ribbon Panel of experts, appointed by the National Institutes of Health, 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 training exercises are expected to be some of the most comprehensive biosafety laboratory trainings ever simulated in a laboratory environment, as well as have the most extensive participation of internal and external personnel in a facility of this kind in the country.

Community residents can comment on the training plans and safety procedures at the NEIDL Web site.

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