Events Trigger Several Responses from Quest

Contingency planning helps lab company cope with problems from terrorist attacks

CEO SUMMARY: Terrorist attacks on September 11 impacted Quest Diagnostics Incorporated in a number of unexpected ways. Security measures in New York City and Washington, DC impeded normal courier activities. The immediate shutdown of all air traffic nationwide meant that air-freighted specimen shipments needed to be located, recovered, stabilized and moved forward to an appropriate lab for testing.

TERRORIST ATTACKS ON September 11 triggered a cascade of emergency issues for Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, the nation’s largest clinical laboratory company.

Although the company operates an extensive network of courier routes, patient service centers, and testing labs in the New York City and Washington, DC metropolitan areas, those parts of its operations came through unscathed.

“We were fortunate that no employees were injured during the course of these events,” declared Kenneth W. Freeman, Chairman and CEO of Quest Diagnostics in an interview with THE DARK REPORT. “Nor did any of our facilities sustain damage.”

Quest Offered Assistance

“One of our first actions was to contact the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer assistance,” noted Freeman. “Among other things, we shipped blood draw supplies, such as needles, bandages and the like to St. Vincent’s Hospital, which was the closest hospital to the World Trade Center. We also shipped 60,000 pairs of gloves to the Red Cross for use by rescuers.”

The single greatest impact of the terrorist attacks was the immediate shutdown of the national air space. All commercial airliners were ordered to land at the closest airport. Commercial air service was not permitted to restart for the next 48 hours.

Shutdown of the airspace triggered two immediate problems for Quest Diagnostics. “First, we had to locate specimen shipments that were en route as cargo, gain access to them, stabilize the specimens, and move them on to labs which could perform the tests,” recalled Freeman.

“Second, we had to develop alternative methods to maintain the flow of specimens between our clients and our national system of testing labs,” he continued. “This was particularly true of specimens heading from the East to our Nichols Institute laboratory in San Juan Capistrano, California.”

“One of these specimen shipments for Nichols Institute was on American Airlines flight 11, scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles. This was the airliner which was crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center,” said Freeman. “Once we learned that these specimens were destroyed, the referring physicians were contacted, since specimens would need to be redrawn.

Redeployment Of Couriers

“Because normal air transportation arrangements were unavailable, we began to redeploy our courier system,” he continued. “They learned some new ways to gather specimens. In Manhattan, we had couriers visit clients’ offices on foot. These couriers then rode ferries across the Hudson River to New Jersey to deliver those specimens to our lab.

“Our regional laboratories in parts of the United States shifted ground transportation over to a relay arrangement. For example, specimens gathered by the Seattle lab were driven down to Portland, Oregon. Those combined specimens were driven down to San Francisco, to our lab in Dublin. From there, they continued downstate to Southern California.”

Despite the total ban on commercial air traffic enacted on September 11, Quest Diagnostics was able to gain permission from the federal government to fly specimens. “Government officials were very cooperative on this issue,” observed Freeman. “Laboratory test specimens are considered essential medical services. For that reason, before midnight on the day of the attacks, we gained permission to start transporting specimens by airplane.”

Quest Diagnostics maintains a number of private aircraft, primarily single-engine Cessnas for transporting specimens. “We supplemented these flights with charter aircraft,” he explained. “Once we had these federal approvals to fly, we also contacted other national reference labs and offered to aid them in the transport of their clients’ specimens.

Referring Tests

“Another initiative we undertook was to contact hospitals and offer to do referral testing for them until regular transportation was re-established. This was actually a two-way street. We did refer tests to some hospital labs because that was the best way to maintain continuity of service for our clients in those regions,” noted Freeman.

“The management team at Quest Diagnostics did a great job of responding to all of the challenges generated by the terrorists attacks on that terrible day,” stated Freeman. “We have a crisis management plan which is updated yearly, so alternative tracking and logistics options had been prepared in advance. The fact that we had a revised national transportation network up and flying again within 10 hours of the FAA’s air traffic shutdown order speaks volumes about the energy and enthusiasm of our people. We didn’t miss a beat.

Leave Nothing To Chance

“For the overwhelming majority of specimens, there was, at most, a 24-hour delay,” commented Freeman. “Our contingency planning is rigorous because we do not want to leave anything to chance.”

In closing, Freeman expressed a common sentiment among most lab executives and pathologists when he said “All labs share the commitment to patient care. In emergencies such as this, it’s important for labs to work together toward that goal. That’s when patients and physicians need us the most.”

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