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As the economic downturn lingers, departments across the country look for ways to reduce budgets. Smart facilities, including laboratories, can save space and energy (and therefore money) compared to traditional facilities. One area in which facilities are becoming increasingly smart is user identification. The ability for the facility to identify users helps in the three most paramount issues of forensic design: safety, efficiency, and security. We’ll examine three different technologies which work in conjunction with three different items that are common to forensic facilities—fume hoods, lighting, and evidence security.

Fume hoods are the first line of defense in the safety of users against chemical exposure and work on the principle of containment and directing airflow away from the user. They are also expensive to run. The typical fume hood in the U.S. uses “3.5 times as much energy as a home.”1 Two recent technologies have helped reduce the amount of energy fume hoods use; fume hood occupancy sensors and the newest generation of ductless fume hoods.

In a traditional fume hood, air is drawn through the sash in one direction and at a velocity to assure that any contaminated air within the hood cannot escape. The air runs through the fume hood and is then exhausted out of the building. The air pulled through the hoods is conditioned—we are paying to condition air and then almost immediately exhausting it out of the building. Fume hoods exhaust significantly more air when the sash is open than when the sash is closed. For any number of reasons, users may leave the sash open when the fume hood is not in use. Finding ways to reduce the amount of time fume hood sashes are unnecessarily open will help reduce the energy use of a facility. Keeping the sash closed when a fume hood is not in use is also a good safety practice. One way to keep fume hood sashes closed when not in use is with fume hood occupancy sensors, also called automatic sash operators.

Automatic sash operators identify if there is a user at the hood or not and raises or lowers the sash in accordance with that information. An example of an automatic sash operator is Labconco’s Intelli-Sash. The Intelli-Sash utilizes a passive infrared occupancy sensor which automatically senses the presence of a person and will open the sash accordingly. The cone of sensitivity of the sensor can be adjusted to account for such differences as someone being at the fume hood versus someone simply walking past the fume hood. Reaction time for the auto-open feature is quick and closing times can be adjusted to your preference. This feature also includes built-in safety features, for example the sash will stop short of an obstruction in its path.2

Even with automatic sash operators, a standard fume hood and associated HVAC system will still exhaust air out of the building which increases energy costs. Ductless fume hoods expend far less energy, since they do not exhaust conditioned air out of the building. They too have features which identify use.

The newest generation of ductless fume hoods offers many improvements over previous ductless systems. Although ductless technology has been around for quite a while, they were often built with limited use in mind and were applicable for containing only certain chemicals. The newest products on the market utilize a new, multi-chemical containment model. These products developed by Erlab and marketed under the Green Fumehood name have been adopted by many industry leaders in fume hood production such as Thermo Scientific, Air Master Systems Corporation, and ALC Collegedale.3

Green fume hood technology heavily utilizes identification to maintain the safety of the users and assure the proper operation of the fume hoods. The filter technology employs modular columns of filter materials assuring capture of both liquid and gaseous chemicals along with the capture of powder and particulate.4 The system identifies the types of filters that are in place along with the age and use status of those filters in order to assure that all necessary precautions are in place prior to use.5

An additional identification feature of the Green Fume Hood is RFID cards which allow various types of hood use by various facility users. These smart cards are required for access and the hoods will only function upon receipt and insertion of these personalized cards. Alarms are created for any unsafe scenario including filter change requirements and potential events that produce heat.6,7

Fume hoods aren’t the only technology to utilize identification sensing for smart operation. While fume hoods and mechanical air systems are the leading cost of operations in a forensic facility, lighting is also costly.

Adequate lighting is paramount to the ability for analysts to perform their jobs correctly. While day lighting is the best option for visual acuity and color rendition, it is not always an option.When additional light is needed light fixtures are used. As with sash closure, turning off lights and turning them back on may be deemed a hassle, particularly when gloves are contaminated or hands are full.

By utilizing occupancy sensors, light fixures in crime labs need not require switches.By utilizing occupancy sensors, light fixtures need not require switches. The sensor can detect when laboratories are unoccupied and turn the lights off, saving energy. Like the sensors on the intelligent sash operators, the sensors on the light fixtures may be adjusted to be more or less sensitive and can be set to trigger as someone nears the area.

The last identification technology to be discussed in this article deals not with operational costs or personnel safety but with the security and chain-of-custody of evidence within a laboratory.

Evidence lockers are ubiquitous within certain areas of laboratories. They are often found in the Crime Scene section particularly for facilities which provide Crime Scene services 24/7 while the remainder of the laboratory retains a more standard 8-5 operation.When Crime Scene techs retrieve evidence from a scene when the remainder of the lab is closed for business, quite often evidence lockers are utilized for housing the collected materials until evidence intake is re-opened. Crime Scene collects such a vast variety of evidence in all shapes and sizes that it is difficult to predict how many and what types of lockers are most useful on any given day. In order to account for varying amounts and types of evidence to be stored many multiples of lockers are designed and installed. This leads to a large area needed for evidence lockers as well as to a large cost for the purchase and installation of the lockers.

Spacesaver has developed a line of smart evidence lockers which allows multiple users to utilize the same banks of lockers thereby requiring a smaller overall quantity of lockers. The A.C.C.E.S.S. system allows Crime Scene techs to choose an unoccupied locker within the range of available lockers and utilizing a computerized entry system, check out that locker for their evidence. Until they relinquish that locker, it is accessible only by that particular Crime Scene personnel. The computer system tracks and identifies users by locker and each locker can be checked out and returned endlessly from one person to the next as needed.8 This allows for complete security of the evidence; evidence can be shown to have always been in the chain-of-custody of a particular Crime Scene tech. Since the system allows the lockers to reliably be shared without sharing locks or keys, fewer lockers are required while still fulfilling the obligation that a locker only be under the control of one person at a time.

Smart technologies have entered forensic facilities. These technologies harness the power of identification—whether by individual identification such as the fume hood key card or evidence locker control or by the identification of personnel within a laboratory for functionality such as sash control and lighting. The areas mentioned here are only the beginning of what identification will do for the safety, efficiency and security of forensic facilities in the coming years.

References

  1. Fume Hood Energy Model. Accessed 10 Feb., 2011 <http://fumehoodcalculator.lbl.gov/index.php>.
  2. Labconco: Meet Intelli-Sash, the automatic sash positioning system. 5 Aug., 2010. Accessed 8 Feb., 2011.
    <http://news.labconco.com/index.php/article/meet-intelli-sash-theautomatic-sash-positioning-system>.
  3. Green Fume Hood Technology Partners. Accessed 8 Feb., 2011 <www.greenfumehood.com/ usa/1807-2234-greenfumehood-technologies-partners.html">http:// www.greenfumehood.com/ usa/1807-2234-greenfumehood-technologies-partners.html>.
  4. Neutrodine Filtration System. Accessed 8 Feb., 2011 <http://www.greenfumehood.com/usa/1787-2235-neutrodinefiltration-system.html>
  5. Filter Saturation Detector. Accessed 8 Feb., 2011 <http://www.greenfumehood.com/ usa/1791-2238-filter-saturationdetector.html>
  6. User Identification System and Access Control. Accessed 8 Feb., 2011 <www.greenfumehood.com/usa/1790/ 24/1/Access-Control.html">http:// www.greenfumehood.com/usa/1790/ 24/1/Access-Control.html>.
  7. g Guard. Accessed 10 Feb., 2011 <http://www.greenfumehood.com/usa/1789/24/1/Remote-management.html>.
  8. Spacesaver Corporation. Evidence Storage: Secured from collar to conviction. Spacesaver Corporation Brochure, page 8-9, 2008.


Susan Halla is a Project Leader and Senior Forensic Planner with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide. susanh@crimelabdesign.com

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