Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Sandy vs. Science: On Long Island, Prominent Research Lab Weathers the Storm

Prepared. Disaster planning spurred by previous storms enabled the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York to avoid problems during superstorm Sandy.

Wikimedia Commons

At the entrance to one of the buildings at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on the North Shore of hurricane-devastated Long Island in New York state, there's a makeshift sign: "Sandy versus Science … Science Wins."

Although Long Island, where this prominent molecular biology institution is based, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy earlier this week, prior planning meant the lab remained a beacon—literally—in the community, despite the loss of power in much of the area.

Although other institutions, notably, New York University, were devastated by the storm, CSHL had in place eight diesel-powered generators, each capable of supplying several buildings. They have been running since the electricity went out on Monday night. The generators are maintaining freezers and incubators of specimens, allowing experiments to carry on, enabling the cafeteria to stay open, and even providing lights and media for a meeting that was supposed to start Tuesday, and finally got going yesterday.

And the community has taken notice. "They saw the lights on at night," says CSHL President Bruce Stillman. Over the past few days, police and firefighters and local families and their children have made their way over to the lab for meals and Internet access. "We think we can last rather indefinitely as long as we can get diesel," Stillman says.

After being hit with Hurricane Gloria in 1985, the lab realized it needed to have an emergency plan. "Lessons learned from there really put us in good shape," Stillman says.

Several days before Sandy, the lab's disaster plan kicked in. Located on the shores of Long Island Sound, the lab was vulnerable to flooding, so elevators were moved up from the basements and sandbags piled to shield against the incoming tide, which peaked more than 2 meters above normal on Monday. Water got into one building and even then didn't do much damage, Stillman says. With ample housing on the campus, the lab also arranged for facilities personnel to stay overnight during the storm, so cleanup of 100 downed trees began first thing Tuesday morning.

The lab had stocked up on food, laying away a 5-day supply for its cafeteria, and diesel, with enough for 2 days and a prearranged contract with a supplier to keep the fuel tanks full. When the lab's vehicles needed gas, they trucked a generator over to the local gas station to fill up, and soon there were long lines of local residents doing likewise.

Undaunted, organizers of a 4-day meeting on cell nuclear receptors and disease have started sessions for the 40 registrants who have actually made it to the lab. Some international travelers made it, but the plenary speaker couldn't get there from New York City, Stillman says.

As of Thursday, there was no phone service on the lab's main campus, and those that live on the grounds have been taking cold showers for the most part. But overall, Stillman says, "I'm happy with the way things have come through."