Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital is a leader in the treatment and research of mental illness with a world renowned brain bank – that recently shrank by one third. The collection of brain samples, kept in a freezer, has led to breakthrough discoveries and a greater understanding of neurological conditions such as autism, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Staff protect the freezer with two separate alarms, a lock and surveillance camera, and check an external thermostat twice a day – so how did the freezer turn off and the system fail them for days before anyone knew about it?

The situation is unusual and answers are still awaiting the completion of an internal investigation. Here’s three potential places where it went wrong, and could have been prevented or mitigated.

1. Make Scheduled Maintenance a Priority

A comprehensive preventive maintenance program keeps equipment and facilities in operating condition with routine inspection, measurement, repairs and parts replacement that are systematically scheduled, dispatched and tracked. The idea is to identify potential malfunctions before they occur or impair operations. The risk of foregoing a preventive maintenance program can be greater than incurred costs and productivity loss. In McLean Hospital’s situation, it may have slowed autism research by a decade, according to Boston.com.

2. Prepare for the Black Swan Event

A Black Swan event is a rare, unpredictable event for which there is lack of preparation. Not every emergency situation or brain freezer malfunction can be anticipated, but every team can be prepared. Risk assessment, table top exercises, checklists, emergency pre-plans, and scenario planning help to assess your level of readiness and maximize preparedness.

A Building Engines client, Joe Donovan, SVP of Beacon Capital, holds property managers responsible for building security and emergency preparedness efforts. He uses table-top training exercises for his property managers along with the Building Engines suite of risk management tools to help prepare his team to manage  and prepare for emergency situations. Watch him deliver tips on executing effective emergency & crisis management programs in an on-demand webinar: Emergency Preparedness- Managing Risk & the Role of the Property Manager.

3. Back That Plan Up

Despite the temperatures in McLean’s freezer being over 80 degrees over the acceptable limit, two alarms failed to trigger. When valuable assets or a “priceless collection,” in this case, rely on critical systems,  the back-up plans, procedures and systems need to be checked and rechecked regularly.  When selecting any kind of critical system, consider its level of availability, security, scalability and performance. For Building Engines, having a hosting environment with 3 level redundancy, regularly scheduled system backups, a disaster recovery site, and an emergency notifications process is critical to keeping our client data secure and performance guaranteed, even in the event of a disaster.

While much research was likely lost in the McLean Hospital “brain drain,” hopefully there were valuable lessons learned that can help them and others prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.