Connect with Tracy Wieder:
Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturer's Network podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to our guest today, Tracy Wieder. Tracy has worked in the field of biomedical research for 30 years, starting as a lab technician, then moving into lab manager roles, lab director roles, and finally into her current role overseeing all research labs at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition, she's a recognized expert on disaster preparedness and safety. So, Tracy, welcome to the show.
Tracy Wieder: Thank you so much, Lisa. I'm glad to be here.
Lisa Ryan: Please share a little about your background and what led you to do what you do.
Tracy Wieder: Absolutely. I started just in college, getting a biology degree and going into research laboratories as a laboratory technician. And I minded my own business until one day when I lived in Houston. We experienced a tropical storm in 2001 named Tropical Storm Allison, and it wreaked such havoc on the Houston metropolitan area that I saw it in the laboratory setting. I saw entire careers destroyed by this event, and I have now made it a passion of mine to help out.
With disaster preparedness information in any setting that I can get my hands on to help people understand that really disaster planning applies to everybody no matter where.
Lisa Ryan: So what caused them to lose their careers in that?
Tracy Wieder: So, in this particular instance, because it was laboratory research, they have very valuable samples that are irreplaceable. They're intellectual property, and they store these samples in liquid nitrogen. So at a freezing temperature. Around a hundred and minus 190 degrees Celsius. So even colder, it sounds even colder in Fahrenheit temperatures. And because of this disaster, we couldn't get the samples, and all of the power was out.
The backup generators were out, so the elevators didn't work. And we couldn't get the liquid nitrogen supply up to the laboratories, so their liquid nitrogen evaporated off, and all of their samples were lost because of that. And on top of it, there was no power. There was no air conditioning. And in that particular event, we also had the morgue down in the basement of that building.
And so there were that had not yet been embalmed that were also part of that there was a large flood, which made the area biohazardous so nobody could reenter for about three weeks when they let us go in to remove some samples. But we were out of the lab for about three months while they were trying to clean up the biohazard zone and dry things.
Lisa Ryan: Wow. And I can't think of a time in our history over the last couple of years and actually, the last couple weeks with the hurricanes coming through that disaster preparedness is such a vital issue. But first, we're dealing with all the shutdowns and turnarounds from a worldwide pandemic that we haven't seen since 1918.
And it was interesting to see how some companies could turn on a dime and go from manufacturing metal stampings to making masks, and they're making Yes of respirators and stuff.
Tracy Wieder: So some companies were able to turn around. Others just weren't.
Lisa Ryan: And then, of course, with Ian Hurricane Ian going through in the last couple weeks, you know, that devastation. But I also think that with the hurricane, not the people in Florida are used to hurricanes, but it would seem their disaster preparedness would be a little better than most because, I don't want to say they're used to that, but they get it more than we do in Cleveland.
So talk about a few different types of preparedness when you have something unexpected like a pandemic and expected like a hurricane.
Tracy Wieder: Exactly. I'll use this opportunity to mention the different types of disasters and answer your question.
So as you said, there's the expected, and there's the unexpected. I always categorize it into severe weather events - like hurricanes. In other parts of the country, it can be mudslides, blizzards, and tornadoes. As you said, all things are not natural disasters, so a hurricane, we have some notice. An earthquake, you don't. It's just going to happen. A blizzard, you have a little bit of notice. And tornadoes are pretty sudden. But then there are fires, floods, and power outages. We had a disaster just in the last year involving a plumbing contractor breaking off a fire sprinkler head and instantly flooding the entire building. With that, there's so much pressure behind those fire sprinkler heads. So if you break off that head, you'll flood that whole building.
And then, of course, there are epidemics and pandemics, which in the past I would've said, I would've often asked, say if I were speaking to people on this topic, I would ask how many people have been through a disaster at work? And now we've all been through a disaster at work and in our personal lives because of that pandemic.
Yeah. So what's most important is just always to be prepared. Because if you prepare in advance, you're not worried about whether it's a fire that you can't predict or something that maybe like a blizzard that you know is coming, right? If you're just prepared, then you have your plan, you're prepared, and you'll be able to recover.
To some extent, as opposed to trying to scramble around last minute. There's no big difference between whether you know it's coming and you and a sudden disaster because the best way to approach either scenario is to plan.
Lisa Ryan: So, how does one get started even thinking about putting if somebody was starting from ground zero to put together a disaster plan? Where do you start? What does that look like?
Tracy Wieder: Yeah, it can seem a little overwhelming and, in some cases, a lot overwhelming, right? So, the first thing anyone has to do in any setting is to determine your vulnerabilities. So in some settings, we might have toxic substances that, if released into the environment, could be hazardous to public health.
In other settings, we might not have anything toxic but some very expensive equipment. But if it were lost, it would result in significant financial hardship for the company. And then, in some cases, we might also have intellectual property, meaning any inventions, anything that's unique to that particular company or organization that they have copyrights on, that can't be replaced just by going to a vendor and saying, Hey, send me another one.
So everybody needs to sit down. Think about what they do on a day-to-day basis and what you would do if your computer, your records, and all your assets were gone. And when you think of it that way, I think it's pretty easy to come around to, okay, like I can replace this, I put my data on the cloud but this specific thing I couldn't replace, or it would be so expensive to replace it, that sort of thing.
And then, so it's really about identifying those vulnerabilities first. Once you know those vulnerabilities, then you can work on them. What can we do to protect these items? The first thing will always be taking pictures because, for insurance purposes, you'll need that documentation. So especially if there are any assets involved, like equipment, you're just going to take pictures of all of it, and you don't have to spend a lot of time on that every year.
The first time you do it, you get all the pictures, and whenever you replace equipment or bring something new, You take its picture and make sure you don't store it on a hard drive, right? Like we want that data to be stored in the cloud, where you would still have your data if you lost this particular computer.
And the same goes for any standard operating procedures, protocols, or necessary documentation that your business requires to survive. The data you need, like your customer database, for instance -anything that needs to be stored on the cloud where you're sure it will be safe in case any individual computer is ever destroyed.
And then from there, other things can be done too - depending on the vulnerabilities. But that's where you start. It's sitting down and saying, if everything were lost, What would be the most difficult to replace? Can we replace it, and what would it take to replace it? And then going from there.
Lisa Ryan: So, thinking of what's going on with the cloud. I've had experts on the show in cyber security because that could be a disaster too. My husband's company was gotten into by ransomware, and they were shut down for about three weeks. It took that long to get their data back.
Thankfully they had some backup. So yes, they still lost a week or two worth of data. So is there a happy medium between what you can keep on the cloud and how you ensure that you keep that data?
Tracy Wieder: Yeah, that's an excellent point because you're right. In the cyber security world, it's hard to imagine anything safe. But again, I advise people to keep it on the cloud and a thumb drive for anything that's super critical. I don't want people to feel like disaster preparedness is. Oh gosh, now, I have to transfer things from here to there every day. So you want it to be manageable for people.
So again, have to be like all of your data, but for anything that would be important, it's worthwhile to put it on as an external drive, another backup source.
Lisa Ryan: So we've taken a look at the vulnerability standpoint. After that, what are some of the critical things that manufacturers should do to prepare for disasters at their workplace?
Tracy Wieder: Yeah. And this question has evolved now after having gone through the pandemic, right? So I used to think much more about physical, animal, and equipment chemicals. And these are all still very important, but now we also need to consider our staff and how we can keep the business continuity going with a business continuity plan. So for organizations where they can send their staff home to work, even if you've called everybody back at this point, we must continue to cultivate that as an option when needed.
I recommend that everybody who can do that, who can send staff home when needed, do work-from-home drills like twice a year where you send everybody home, you say, We're going to have a day where we work from home, and what are your problems? For example, Bill couldn't make his printer work. Sonya couldn't make her camera work. You go through all these things because these can change from month to month. The last time we did the drill, everything worked. Now this time, Tracy can't make anything work at home. So work-from-home drills are super crucial for those sorts of things. Taking pictures of anything that's a tangible physical asset is essential. I lived through that event in Houston, and it is incredible what the insurance companies will say. You can have a room where it's clear that the roof has fallen in, and they'll say how do we know it didn't look like that before?
It's essential to take long shots of the warehouse or your work setting and close-up pictures of the equipment itself. And it's not that this will keep you from losing that equipment, but it will make it much easier for you to recover.
When you're making insurance claims, also, as we said, store things on the cloud, and have backups on external drives. It's imperative to keep updated contact information for all of the teams that you work with. Because at the end of the day, we must take care of each other and look out for each other.
But in addition to saying Hey, maybe I have power at my house. You guys don't have power. Oh, come over here. It's two degrees outside, come to my house. Other than that, it's also how you stay in touch about what your organization has made announcements about coming to work or not coming to work.
And it's just vital to have that contact information. And then, if you have anything on an alarm, often high-end equipment can be on alarms if it goes out of its operating range. So, make sure you test those alarms regularly and that they're working and making contact in the way they're set up to do.
That's important. I've seen cases where people have a freezer go into alarm and need updated contact information. Or something needed to be fixed with the connection for the alarm monitoring system, and it's only when they come in Monday and find their freezer thawed, and everything inside of it lost that they realize that their alarms were working.
So testing those alarms is essential. And if you do have anything that's intellectual property that if it's something that it would be possible to distribute, like with collaborators or other branches of your company, it's a good idea to have everything in a variety of places.
Whereas if that place were lost, it's all just gone. Where maybe you have other locations. Again, it's very broad with manufacturing, so it's hard to speak precisely to any particular environment. But that's the general gist of it. And then also being able to move things if you see the need.
So having a plan in advance, like if we know something is coming, do we have a location that we could contract with in advance where, say, I'm on the first floor, maybe we get these things up to the fifth floor? So depending on the disaster, if it's something you can plan for, moving equipment, assets, or intellectual property around can be helpful.
But you have to think that through in advance. If needed, you must have the right electrical in place—the proper utilities and space where this is coming from. I'm going to move these items. And then, as you had alluded to, it's different in the sense if you know it's coming, and you don't know it's coming in the way it hits us, but the way we prepare for it would pretty much be the same. Just plan and understand what you're going to do.
Lisa Ryan: And one of the things that I never really thought about before, which was brilliant, is the go of the work-from-home drill, just sending people home. I know that some companies are all bent on bringing everybody back to the odd, back to the office 24/7, bring everybody back, which is a mistake because I did too.
Yeah, people were perfectly capable of working from home for two years and getting the work done. Does it matter where they're working? It's nice to get people together and have some core hours or days. Yeah, but the thought of Just like you have a fire drill. Which is always a bummer when it happens in front, in the middle of a training program,
Just tomorrow's a work-from-home date, with no notice except for the night before notice to see what does work and if we need to do that. So I like that. And then the other thing, when you talk about getting dated contact information, that goes hand in hand with workplace culture because you have to create a workplace where your employees, especially your hourly employees, trust you enough with that information, with their home phone number, with their personal email address. So you can get ahold of them when needed. And even that example you said of, it's two degrees outside, and we find out that one employee doesn't have heat and somebody else does. So we can start connecting people and making it about the people because they are your greatest assets. So those two were good, simple tips for people too.
Tracy Wieder: Yeah. And at the end of the day, we must take care of each other. So I hope that in most work environments, people trust that they understand. But, of course, if people aren't comfortable sharing their home contact information, that will probably make it a more significant issue.
Yes, it's probably a bigger issue going on there. They need to look for a better work environment because these are really how, other than just being a humanitarian and wanting everyone to be safe and well. This is how companies show the employees they care: keeping them safe, saying to them, we're going to prepare for a disaster so that you don't have to be without a paycheck for longer than is necessary if something happens. And some employees who, if the work shuts down, are without a paycheck. And so that's another way of showing that we care for our employees is to say I'm going to prepare so that we can recover quickly and get you back to earning money. If there were a fire or the worst were to happen.
Lisa Ryan: And so yeah. It's really, it's part of the culture, too, of does the organization care enough. Because we think about, again, in disaster planning, our intellectual property, our machinery, our equipment, but when things happen, And I think that we saw it during the pandemic, the importance of empathy, of reaching out to employees and saying, Hey, are you okay?
What do you need? How can we support you? How can we be of assistance to you? And sometimes just making the call. For example, as a member of the National Speakers Association, I was on the task force that we reached out to every member in the state of Florida after Hurricane Ian. It was amazing that people said, Wow. I'm in four different associations, and nobody else called, and they're in the middle of the state. They're not affected, but we don't know if their loved ones are. So it's reaching out to people in times of need and seeing that there are people on that other side of the equation because, really, you don't have a lot without those assets.
Tracy Wieder: And it just means a lot. I'm in Miami, and although it looked like Ian was going to hit us at one point, it turned, and it didn't. That's common with hurricanes. So we're okay, but our heart is breaking for our neighbors just north, right? The pictures are horrible. Some people say it's the worst hurricane that ever hit Florida.
So I agree with you. But, again, just showing some empathy and concern. And even if we go back to my example, which you referenced, you like how easy it is to say open your doors to someone who doesn't have power. And maybe it's 115 degrees outside, perhaps two degrees outside, but I got power.
You don't like how hard it is to say, Come over and stay safe. Don't freeze. We're in this together. Let's get through it together. And it's important to form cultures like that in the workforce so that people feel they are a team and a family.
Lisa Ryan: Exactly. And as we end our time together, what is your best tip regarding disaster planning? Whether you're getting started or just. Make sure you have some plan in place.
Tracy Wieder: Yeah. So the best tip is just what you said, is to have a plan. That's the number one best tip. So once you're there, you're in really good shape. But yeah, and as I said earlier, but I'll emphasize it again, as you're making that plan, think about it. What are your vulnerabilities, right? What are your most vulnerable? Or sometimes, for some organizations, those vulnerabilities are going to be, what are your most critical functions?
How can we shuffle people from here to there? Cross-training has become vital for this. What if you have a team of six, and five...