What will constitute a modern forensic laboratory in 2030? From its physical manifestation to its legal and scientific mandates, the vision for the ideal forensic laboratory in 2030 will likely be dramatically different from the model of today.
Forensic Laboratory 2030
This is the first in a four-part series that reveals how forensic laboratories might be designed in the future based on the findings of the research survey undertaken by SmithGroupJJR—Forensic Laboratory 2030. This article will examine projected changes within the forensic science environment. Future articles will focus on investigative activities, physical environment, and workplace activities within the forensic industry.
Over a two year period, crime lab directors and managers throughout the country were polled with an online survey and personal interviews. The resulting data was collected and organized under the following four categories:
- Scientific Environment. Identified future trends in laboratory organizational structure, effects of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report, anticipated future challenges, influence on forensic facilities, and emerging technologies.
- Investigation Activities. Explored laboratory investigation methods, advancement in automated technology, use of computers, electronic communication, and the effect of new procedures and equipment on lab practices.
- Physical Environment. Compared influencing factors for laboratory configuration, casework systems, security protocols, specialty needs, and collaboration goals.
- Workplace Activities. Focused on preferences in current lab design, vision for the ideal lab facility, sustainability and energy efficiency, staff amenities, and future challenges.
The following facility stats from participants reveal a representative range of demographics, facility sizes, and ages, including historical and projected growth for staff and caseloads.
- Facility size (gross square feet) ranged from 8,500 GSF to 190,000 GSF with an average of 43,000 GSF
- Facility age ranged from 5 years to 35 years with an average of 19 years
- Staff increases over the last 10 years averaged 23% and are projected to grow 44% over the next 10 years
- Caseloads (differentiated from actual tests) are projected to increase on average by as much as 33% over the next 5 years.
While these and other metrics collected highlight general trends within the forensic community, it is important to note that every facility is unique to its own location and organizational structure—there is no single facility which represents an idealized “average” or one-size-fits-all solution to the complex challenges within the forensic community. The outcome of this survey illustrates the unique pressures and critical requirements that shape the Forensic Laboratory 2030.