Our next three articles will present case studies of international projects by Crime Lab Design. These stories are being shared to help you become aware of the issues facing three different facilities in different parts of the world. These articles will explain the projects in detail showcasing their individual challenges and our suggestions for overcoming them. The first case study will be of a crime lab in South America; with renovations and additions to existing facilities. The second case study will be of a crime lab in northern Africa; with a renovation of a building into a state-of-the art crime lab. The third case study will be of the forensic science institute in western Africa. The institute will include a new forensic lab, a forensic medicine facility, conference and housing, a training facility, and also the infrastructure (power plant, etc.) to support the new site.

Our role in these projects is to provide a professional opinion on the design and layout of the laboratories and engineering support for those spaces. By the time the forensic lab engages with the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITA), part of the U.S. Department of Justice, and then with CLD; the facility is partly or mostly designed. The U.S. government is investing dollars to promote good forensic science: training, equipment, and facilities. We provide a professional opinion on whether the design and layout of the facility and labs support good lab practices which can allow for and hopefully enhance good forensic science.

The International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), through Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI) contracted Crime Lab Design to conduct an on-site review of a recently partially remodeled lab in South America. The following issues were identified and documented:

  • Safety in the laboratory.
  • Adequacy and compatibility of existing laboratory bench top surface materials.
  • Security in the laboratory.
  • Mechanical, Engineering, Plumbing, and Fire Protection infrastructure in the laboratory.
  • Evidence storage and security in the laboratory.
  • Efficiency in the laboratory.
  • Flow of evidence, staff, public, and materials/supplies/waste in and out of the laboratory.

All of these issues are in reference to and designed to support the laboratory’s goals in obtaining International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accreditation.

Our Approach
Our approach to this assignment began with the collection of available data related to the existing building and discussions with the former lab director of the facility and ICITAP senior advisory staff. On-site activities included an introductory meeting with laboratory leadership, key section leaders of the laboratory, and other concerned stakeholders to both review the planned activities and to learn from them the issues, concerns, and plans that were in development.

Following the introductory meeting an overall tour of the building was conducted, during which issues were noted and documented. Interviews were then conducted with individual Departments including: Ballistics, Questioned Documents, Fingerprints and Human Identification, Accident Reconstruction,Voice and Photography, Accounting and Management Audit, Digital Forensics, and the Topography, Planimetry, Architecture and Engineering departments. All were toured and when possible detailed discussions with the technical staff were conducted.

Topics discussed with the staff included: security practices; evidence control and handling procedures; facilities and practices associated with contamination control; major instrumentation deficiencies; hazardous materials—use and waste streams; health and safety; quality of life issues; and laboratory utility system performance and appropriateness.

Our Findings
Our findings include deficiencies ranging from significant (with overall facility impact) down to isolated items (with simple remedies). The lack of a proper ventilation system for the scientific sections was the most significant deficiency noted. Areas of the building are provided with operable windows, which are useful under limited conditions, but present challenges related to maintaining a stable environment for scientific equipment and present evidence security issues. The lack of a ventilation system is also considered a major health and safety concern for the occupants of the facility. Correction of this deficiency is considered of high importance and has a serious impact on existing and planned technical spaces.

Other safety issues identified include the provision of a single stair tower for exiting the building, ventilation and equipment deficiencies in the ballistics test area (firing range), and extensive mold growth in one of the utility/storage areas on the lower level.

In general the materials used in the laboratories are durable, but not the best suited for forensic scientific purposes. Countertops have been constructed of concrete and then covered with ceramic tile with grouted joints.On a section by section basis many of the ceramic tile countertops need to be removed, since they conflict with the functional requirements of the lab. Further laboratory development should use conventional laboratory countertops constructed of epoxy resin, stainless steel, or other suitable materials.

Security systems currently in use in the laboratory include surveillance cameras and limited biometric access control points. While we were in the facility, many operable windows and doors were open which lead to elevated roof areas that are not secured. The location for monitoring the surveillance systems is located in a remote room. A benefit may be gained for surveillance by having this function located at a guard station to help reduce security staff movement from space to space. No intrusion alarms were noted.

Infrastructure issues include water supply, fire hose protection, fire alarm, and the distributed heating and cooling units. As noted earlier the lack of a proper ventilation system is a major deficiency. Other utilities necessary to support the planned scientific department will need to be installed as part of that outfitting.

Efficiency issues in the lab are predominantly related to the need to provide safe and effective office and laboratory environments. This is directly related to the amount of functional space within each of the units and the basic need for more space exists. More physical space is required for the: lab staff, examination of evidence, scientific instrumentation, and equipment.

A second major efficiency issue involves the flow of evidence, supplies and waste, and ideas.

The flow of evidence into the building and to evidence control can currently allow non-lab staff to travel through the forensic laboratory. This can be problematic for safety, efficiency, and other reasons. Two solutions were recommended. One option would be to have those who are not either lab staff or Crime Scene Investigators escorted from their point of entry to drop off evidence and back out of the building when their visit is complete. The second option would be to create an area for interface with non-lab staff that is directly adjacent to central evidence storage and provides a direct path from the building entry to evidence storage.

The flow of new materials into the building and waste stream out is currently facilitated only by a loading dock and storage areas which are not climate controlled. During our walk through of the existing space we noticed supplies stacked in the hallways, impeding movement through the facility.We recommended creating temporary holding spaces near the loading area which are climate controlled for temporary storage of supplies until they can be distributed.

The flow of ideas and collaboration through the building might be improved by providing additional gathering areas which allow staff members to meet together, exchange ideas, and share their struggles and success.

These case studies are being presented to help educate the reader of the hurdles facing international forensic facilities. ICITAP/USDOJ and CLD have these facilities and their users’ best interests in mind in providing them with an objective opinion of their future forensic labs. In promoting good forensic lab design we support good lab practices which allow for and hopefully enhance good forensic science.

Ken Mohr ( is a Principal and Senior Forensic Planner and Lou Hartman ( is a Principal and Senior Mechanical Engineer with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide.