Forensic Laboratories: Handbook for Facility Planning, Design, Construction, and Moving
Alim A. Fatah, Kathleen M. Higgins
Designing and building a forensic laboratory is a complicated undertaking. Design issues include those considerations present when designing any building, with enhanced concern and special requirements involving environmental health and safety, hazardous materials, management, operational efficiency, adaptability, security of evidence, preservation of evidence in an uncontaminated state, as well as budgetary concerns. To help laboratory directors get through the process, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)/Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES), and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) held a joint workshop November 13-14, 1996 at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to develop guidelines for planning, designing, constructing, and moving crime labs. The guidelines serve as a general tool to which forensic laboratory directors can refer when considering building a new laboratory or refurbishing an existing one. There is not one universally correct plan for forensic laboratory design. No two labs are the same. Technical laboratories such as toxicology, biological science/DNA, firearms analysis, or trace evidence have specialized needs unique to their areas of work. Ultra-clean rooms or higher levels of containment may be required for some analytical procedures. Highest performance standards are required for cleanliness, temperature, humidity, and vibration controls to create an environment suitable for forensic science. Staff needs and functional processes are the driving factors. From the start, the scientists who will occupy the building should be involved with the design/build team to explain their special requirements for the laboratory. Flexibility is also a key element in driving a forensic laboratory's design and configuration. Crime labs must be designed with the flexibility to support adaptability and change or risk obsolescence in a few years.