Perfect (Storm) Performance: How Covance Central Laboratory Services Responded to Superstorm Sandy

Central Laboratory Services - Hurricane SandyDay in and day out, you hold us to a high standard in managing your clinical trials’ logistics needs. The infrastructure that enables us to deliver greater than 99% sample receipt within stability works so smoothly that you rarely need to give it a second thought. But what happens when a natural disaster wipes out roads and bridges, shuts down airports, and even causes referral labs to shut down, stranding samples in transit?

Hurricane Sandy Moves In

The news headlines warned residents, businesses and local, state and federal government agencies to brace themselves for hurricane Sandy, the worst storm of the century. Utilities and governments along the East Coast attempted to head off long-term power failures that this superstorm might cause. Power companies from the Southeast to New England alerted independent contractors to be ready to repair storm-damaged equipment quickly and asked employees to cancel vacations and work longer hours. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, using a computer model built on power outage data from previous hurricanes, conservatively forecasted that 10 million customers along the Eastern Seaboard would lose power from the storm. Without power, the transportation and testing services your trials need would not be possible.

The success of your trial depends upon generating data from the patients you’ve recruited.  We strive to deliver exceptional data consistency by maximizing the amount of data per patient and reducing the risk of lost or inconsistent data.

 Logistics at Covance Central Laboratory Services

Thanks to our global staff of more than 25 logistics personnel, we routinely deliver 98.7% reportable results, supported by overall 99.1% global receipt within stability. They track packages for timely delivery, assuring that these critical samples will be tested in accordance with your protocols.  This superior level of performance is attainable during most conditions and even adverse weather. Now, with Sandy barreling down on the northeast US, our logistics experts began to closely monitor the storm, activate contingency plans, and maintain an open line of communications with our courier network. The critical challenges they faced seemed daunting:

  1. The area that could be devastated represented more than 1,100 clinical trials protocols from more than 160 different trial sponsors.
  2. Inbound samples from the impact zone (collected from patients at investigator sites and being shipped to Covance Central Laboratory Services locations, primarily Indianapolis) could be delayed due to disruption of the courier network caused by the storm, loss of power, airport closures and other obstacles.
  3. Samples en route to referral laboratories (sent by Covance Central Laboratory Services labs around the world) in the northeast US would require special management.
  4. In addition to the problems transporting samples, many of the referral labs would be closed for a number of days during the storm. Samples already in the area needed to be kept stable until the labs resumed operations.

Sites were already beginning to defer visits for early the following week when it became apparent that the worst effects would be felt Monday night rather than Tuesday morning. Strong protocol-level training—a routine service by Central Laboratory Services Investigator Support teams—gave sites the confidence to manage the timing of these visits to maintain protocol compliance and preserve as many samples within stability as possible.

As the storm and its impacts unfolded, we monitored courier operations based on postal codes, matched those up with investigator site locations, and actively worked together to minimize specimen collections that could not be transported safely. Because of the severity of the storm, the investigator sites themselves were forced to shut down, and the courier network came to a near standstill.   Our focus turned to ensuring that samples already collected made it out of the region safely. All of the samples that were picked up by the couriers made it to the central lab within stability.

Covance Central Laboratory Services - Ensures Sample Safety

The storm had the potential to impact samples collected worldwide: many samples were en-route from locations around the world to referral laboratories in the affected area. Fortunately, Covance Central Laboratory Services tracks these shipments closely and was able to work with our couriers to  divert them to the Indianapolis Central Laboratory Services facility, where they were safely stored and maintained with dry ice until both courier and laboratory operations returned to normal. All of these samples were delivered to their final destinations within stability.

A New Crisis

Meanwhile, a new crisis was mounting: several international packages bound for referral labs in the northeast were already present in our courier facility at JFK airport when the storm struck and the referral labs shut down. Working with our primary international courier DHL, we safely held these at the airport under dry ice. However, by mid-week, the dry ice was running out, and the dry ice supplier had none to give to DHL. Although JFK had not yet resumed full operations, and cargo space on every flight was at a premium, our relationship with DHL enabled us to get the packages onto a flight to their facility in Cincinnati. This facility was able to replenish the dry ice in time to maintain the samples within stability, and hold them safely until normal operations resumed on the East Coast. The samples were all safely delivered to referral labs once they reopened.

Central Laboratory Services - Hurricane Sandy

Following the storm, our detailed insight into the recovery of normal operations showed that UPS, our primary courier for U.S. shipments, recovered faster than other couriers, validating our selection of UPS as our primary US courier.

For the affected area during the 5 days of greatest Sandy impact, we delivered 99.24% receipt within stability for inbound samples and 100% for sample management shipments through our exceptional performance, operational expertise and strong global infrastructure.  Covance Central Laboratory Services was able to manage the risk to your trials and continue to deliver high data consistency during the onslaught of a storm that slammed into 24 states in the U.S., including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin.

The true test of any operation is how it performs under stress. Covance Central Laboratory Serivces is pleased to have earned your trust by delivering the consistent performance you need to turn clinical trials into the superior data you need to demonstrate the safety and efficacy advantages of your drug.

For more information about how Covance Central Laboratory Services can assist you with the design and execution of your clinical trials, please contact your Covance Central Laboratory Services account executive or visit for more information.

Learn more about Covance’s Central Laboratory Services

About Dan Weaver

Dan has 30 years experience in the transportation industry, which includes 19 years with a passenger air line holding various positions in operations and freight departments. For the past 11 years Dan has been employed by Covance Central Laboratories, located in Indianapolis Indiana. Dan’s current position as Regional Manager makes him responsible for all logistics operational activities in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean.