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Even at the best of times in our economy, forensic facilities have had to fight for funding and justification for expansions. With the current economic downturn that will continue for the foreseeable future, how can forensic facilities continue to make necessary changes and find strategies for not only thriving but even growing or improving? This article will help to examine a number of ideas that your facility might use to succeed in this era of uncertainty.

Long Term Strategies
Remember to focus on long term strategies for your facility even in time of economic weakness. Quick fixes are often only short-term solutions. If executed properly, such fixes might assist your facility or group to limp along for days, weeks, months, or even years. Inevitably, such fixes will eventually fail and you may find yourself back to the place you started. Such quick fixes are often necessary, but long term planning in conjunction with the quick fixes will assure you and your facility that you are ready to jump when the opportunity presents itself to proceed with a real fix. Long term planning for the future of your facility may be a better use of the time, energy, and available funding you do have. The following examples outline two methods of long-term thinking and what effect it might have on your facility planning.

process mapping for a Forensic Laboratory Section
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Process Mapping
Process mapping is a strategy to understand the highest areas of throughput in your facility and utilize that knowledge to enhance the effectiveness of your lab. The activity of Process mapping provides an objective review of a current process as to the staff performing the process, the process path, the instruments used in the process line and the space needed to perform these activities. Process mapping describes a series of connected steps or actions that achieve an outcome. Organizations often use it to gain an understanding of their existing functional processes and to gain a clear sense of their needs. This enhances their ability to develop a deliberate course of action to improve the timeliness and quality of services. Process mapping might reveal areas for improvement that could be easily modified for little money and that would benefit the functionality turnaround time for your facility leading to more efficient usage of the funding you do have. The District of Columbia Consolidated Laboratory facility utilized Process mapping to identify opportunities to improve forensic case management.

Needs Assessment
Utilizing existing funds or grant money for a needs assessment is a good way to arm your facility for future funding possibilities. With the promise of a significant economic stimulus package by the incoming Federal administration, funding may become available in the coming months and years. Having a plan in place to be able to utilize funding quickly will place you higher in the priority structure of other groups and organizations who may be vying for the same pool of funds but who do not have a plan in place for utilizing such funding. The needs assessment process is an interactive process with your facility that documents a justification of need, types of spaces for the facility, how big the facility should be, and how much it will cost. The process begins with assessing the current facility then projecting need based on several methodologies; among them population and crime rate. A needs assessment will give you a roadmap of future construction and expansion and allow you the chance to jump when funding is available. Often a facility is funded based on the "best guess" of the management of facility commission. Needs assessments are particularly valuable to perform for a facility before funding becomes available as it is a reliable method of calculating projected costs to more effectively budget allocation requests.

Locating Funding Sources
Perhaps you already have a plan or needs assessment in place or need immediate financing for other ventures such as remodeling, system replacement, or equipment. Where can you turn in today's market to find such funding? There are a number of strategies that can be employed to find such funding.

Private Funding Partners and Real Estate
Most often, public funds such as municipal bonds are the preferred method of financing for forensic facilities. In an economy where public financing is difficult to obtain, there are a variety of private funding partners that work specifically with governmental agencies. These funding partners provide taxable and tax-exempt financing solutions to state and local governments and not-for-profit organizations. These funding partners also often provide funding for equipment in the form of tax exempt lease purchase financing.

In addition, there are equity and real estate firms that specialize in working with governmental agencies. One concept that is gaining greater ground in the government and municipal arenas is Design/Lease-Back. Some of these real estate investment trusts focus on the ownership, operation, management, development, redevelopment, and acquisition of properties containing office/laboratory. Such properties are designed and improved for lease primarily to institutional, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, life science product, service, bio-defense, and translational research entities, as well as related government agencies making the man ideal candidate for forensic facilities partnering.

Governmental Grants
Many forensic facility managers have achieved success in obtaining DNA grant money to enhance their facilities in numerous ways. Grant money from the President's DNA Initiative has been used for anything from updating evidence storage space to provide proper sample storage (Kansas City Police Department) to purchasing and installing new mechanical infrastructure to properly maintain temperature in DNA labs (Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Lab). As of this writing, several grant types are availableMissing and Cold Cases, Research and Development, and Training Development and Delivery. More information can be found online at www.dna.gov.

Equipment Leasing
Leasing is one of the fastest growing ways of acquiring equipment today. Forensic facilities often face the dilemma of limited cash flow in contrast to the need to add equipment. Leasing can allow a facility to upgrade or expand laboratory abilities without major capital investment.

In many areas of forensics, technology is changing at a rapid pace. Today's systems may be obsolete two years from now. Leasing allows your facility to maintain a flexible edge by providing you the best technology for today with the ability to upgrade when the equipment has outlived its usefulness. There are also significant tax and accounting advantages with leasing; it can eliminate the need for complicated depreciation schedules since lease payments are generally line item expenses on your profits and loss statement. In addition, since lease payments can usually be treated as a pre-tax business expense, there may be a direct tax benefit to your facility.

Other Strategies
What are some additional methods that facility directors can use to cut costs or strategize during our current economic climate? Inevitably your facility is in the same situation as many other similar facilities. Harnessing the power of ideas and joining together either physically or through the trading of ideas and concepts should not be underestimated.

Partnering
Working with other similar groups to combine available resources is one method that can help overcome budget shortfalls. Partnering among groups with similar purposes often provides synergies of space that lead to amore efficient and ultimately less expensive facilities. Separate facilities for individual groups,while the most traditional method, is often the most costly. By joining forces and combining available funding, the Herzberg Davis Forensic Science Center in Los Angeles was able to realize a state-of-the-art facility that is located on the campus of California State University in Los Angeles and shared jointly by the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and California State University - Los Angeles. By co-locating on one facility, each group was able to attain their needs within budget as well as having access to other organizations and facilities.

Networking
One of the most important ways of surviving during hard economic times is though networking with your peers. Whether through conferences or online discussion groups, hearing what others in similar circumstances are doing can spark ideas of incorporating similar plans in your facility. Sharing your own tips and experiences of what has worked for you and your facility can be rewarding, and by bouncing your ideas off of others, your concepts might expand based on the input of others who are undergoing the same issues.

Reducing Expenses
Last, all of us are trying to reduce expenditures or consolidate needs in this economy. There are many small ideas for such reductions that, when added together, may provide value to your facility. Cutting immediate expenses may even free up what funds are available in order to implement some of the long-term planning scenarios listed earlier in this article.

Closely monitor supplies and consumables. Be careful not to overbuy but create a method of understanding what and how much is being used on a weekly or monthly basis. Having a closer understanding of your purchasing needs may allow you to place orders for exactly what you need when you need it or allow you to buy in bulk when possible to reduce the monthly charges for frequent delivery.

Moving to shift/swing work or "hoteling" would allow for the utilization of the same space by multiple staff at different times of the day; allowing for the hiring of additional necessary staff while not requiring additional space.

Charging for forensic services might not be the most popular suggestion but forensic agencies do adhere to this practice and some do it quite successfully. Outsourcingevaluate the forensic service (e.g.DNA analysis) that could be outsourced. Pooling cases generated by your agency and other local agencies that might benefit from this service may allow you to negotiate amore favorable contract for the analysis of more samples.

This article is intended to be an overview of various concepts that are available to forensic facility managers for coping with uncertain economic times. Review your planning strategies with your staff and peers,work hard to locate additional funding avenues (traditional and non-traditional), and reduce your expenses without hampering your operation. Many of these concepts can be combined together and utilized as a multi-prong approach for dealing with the current financial times. Above all, remember that the most important strategy in these uncertain times may be planning for the future.

Susan Halla is a Project Leader and Sr. Forensic Planner and Ken Mohr is a Principal and Sr. Forensic Planner with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide.

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