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Will my cold storage alarm go off if the power goes out?

Will my cold storage alarm go off if the power goes out?

It’s important to prepare your laboratory in case the worst should happen. And power outages are among the most devastating problems a lab can face. If the temperature of a refrigerator or freezer drops too far, samples can be lost. For example, Harvard lost years of research brain samples, which “set autism research back 10 years” when their freezers failed. That’s where cold storage monitoring is essential for labs to monitor the integrity of their samples. With cold storage alert monitoring, you can keep track of your refrigerator and freezer temperatures in real time. But what happens if the power goes out?

Will an alarm system work if the power goes out in my lab?

In the event of a power failure, a battery-operated alarm sensor for cold storage will send alerts to your connected devices. Sometimes, a power failure outlet alarm will have difficulty monitoring readings once it is no longer connected to a power supply. However, the best power failure alarm for a freezer or refrigerator will continuously monitor even after the power is out. 

To be prepared for power outage events, labs must have a plan that outlines steps to effectively navigate the disruption and maintain the integrity of your projects. This plan often means keeping cold storage unopened and clearly labeled. In the instance of power failure, investing in an IoT sensor is essential to maintain a safe environment for your samples. Luckily, devices like Element T by Elemental Machines exist. The Element T is a connected instrument that provides temperature data when you need it most to ensure your samples are safe. Element T connects to the Elemental cloud and backs up on the Gateway tablet, so you will always have access to the data in real-time.

How long do most power outages last for laboratories, and how often do they occur?

It depends on where the lab is located. Each region of the U.S. has unique hazards that cause outages. For example, California performs public safety power shutoffs in cases of wildfires, while states like Florida or Louisiana may experience outages due to hurricanes. In addition to weather occurrences, some hazards occur due to the local flora and fauna—like squirrels or downed branches. 

According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, most laboratories experience an average of more than one power outage every year that lasts less than 12 hours. Longer-duration outages are less common, with outages lasting longer than 12 hours occurring approximately once every 20 years and those lasting longer than 24 hours once every 30 years.

However, according to Climate Central, a policy-neutral 501(c)(3) nonprofit, shifting weather patterns accelerate major power outage events. In fact, they found the decade from 2011-2021 experienced 64% more major power outages than that from 2000-2010. During the same timeframe, the average annual number of weather-related power outages increased by roughly 78%.

How long will a fridge stay cold without power? How long do freezers stay cold without power? 

The amount of time laboratory freezers and refrigerators can maintain temperatures without power depends on the brand and model—but most importantly, the condition of the door seals. Modern laboratory cold storage equipment typically has excellent sealing ability, so your freezers and refrigerators can stay cold for several hours without power. However, with so much important research on the line—not to mention the amount of money it costs to replace spoiled reagents and other components—relying on the hope that temperatures will remain safe during a power outage isn’t enough. Ensuring doors are sealed and taking accurate temperature measurements are other essential steps to keep your storage at the optimal temperature.

How to prepare for long-term power outage in a laboratory setting

Preparing for a power outage is an important preventative step for laboratories that keep sensitive materials in their refrigerators and freezers. With the possibility of a power outage, what features of an alerting and monitoring system should cold storage sensors offer LabOps professionals? 

  • Powered by batteries: No outlet connection means sensors work even during a power outage.
  • Battery backup: Ensures no data is lost during an outage and can always be backed up on storage devices like Elemental Machine’s Gateway.
  • Cellular backup: Uploads the data to the cloud even if the power goes out and WiFi is unavailable.
  • Remote alarms: Alerts you when the power has failed and informs you if there are any variations outside of the specifications set for cold storage.

With a remote, feature-rich device temperature sensor, like the Element T, you can always be prepared in the event of a power outage. 

How can I monitor my freezer temperature remotely during a power outage?

The best way to remotely measure temperature during a power outage is to use IoT device sensors like the Element T. While there are four types of sensors (thermometers, chart recorders, data loggers, and IoT sensors), the other three types have limitations for remote usage:

  • Thermometers: The obvious downside to using a thermometer is that LabOps personnel cannot access them remotely. Labs using manual thermometers require in-person monitoring. 
  • Chart recorders: A chart recorder is another manual process where a pen makes a mark on paper to track temperature changes in real-time. While this doesn’t require a warm body to take the measurements, it does require someone on-premises to read the physical record. 
  • Data loggers: Data loggers are an attempt to bring thermometers and chart recorders into the digital age. This equipment compiles cold storage temperatures in a local hard drive or USB drive, able to record the information even without electricity or an internet connection. However, this data is typically only accessed after outages, not in real-time. 

IoT sensors enable remote temperature monitoring, and have the ability to send alerts directly to a cell phone. These sensors transmit temperature data and other alerts to the cloud, so they can be easily accessed outside of the facility as long as there’s an internet connection. Teams can take action in moments of urgency rather than receive passive data from older, manual, or non-internet connected devices. This is ideal for LabOps professionals who aren’t onsite 24/7 or may commute to work to track whether a refrigerator or freezer has failed while they’re away. 

Since IoT sensors enable real-time access to cold storage data from all connected devices, many labs are investing in new cold storage temperature monitoring equipment. Monitoring can assist teams in preserving the samples rather than solely identifying the moment when something went wrong and they degraded. Elemental Machines offers the Element T device temperature sensor, so you can always have access to your refrigerator and freezer data using IoT technology.

When should I check my storage temperature during a power outage?

Ideally, you should check your cold storage temperature as frequently as possible during power outages. Having real-time data during an outage event will help ensure that valuable assets like reagents, enzymes, RNA, DNA, embryos, and proteins stay viable, and the cold chain remains intact. IoT temperature sensors give you the ability to check data in real-time. 

One option you have is the Element T. This device sends temperature data every 15 seconds to the Elemental Gateway, which stores and uploads data securely to the Elemental Insights Dashboard.. That means no more worrying about whether or not the temperature in your refrigerators or freezers are safe for your samples in the event of a power outage. In the event of a power outage, the Element T uses cellular data to send the data to the Elemental Gateway, which has battery backup and stores the data temporarily on the unit until the power is restored. Its two replaceable AA lithium batteries that last two years and protect against power outages. 

For example, a -80ºC freezer might have small temperature changes seen by the sinusoidal pattern due to typical compressor cycles. That’s what a properly functioning freezer should look like. However, if the temperature started rising in the middle of the night to -65ºC, a temperature alert would be sent to your devices. In this case, the Element T, combined with the Gateway, continues to monitor and store data even when the power to the facility is out.

If you’d like to see how the Element T and the Elemental Machines platform can help your LabOps team, visit our website or request a demo today.

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