Lab on Loan

When the crime lab flooded, an NFSTC mobile laboratory saved the day


     Which restoration process is used is based on what the item is or if it has already gone through DNA testing. There are two ways Munters dries items: In a low vapor pressure desiccant chamber or vacuum freeze dryer. Which process is most appropriate depends on the condition of the materials and what lab testing needs to be completed. Munters restoration specialists together with their clients decide what methods will allow Munters to return the materials in the most useful condition for use as evidence.

     "When you get involved in evidence, you have to look at every piece and every case and decide which process makes more sense," Gilbert says. "Having an understanding of the item as it relates to the case is what's most important. If you have a sneaker, it's important to know if it was collected for DNA or a shoe print, for example. And that understanding needs to come from the police department and the district attorney's office and be shared with the restoration company."

     Gilbert has seen more restoration successes when a disaster plan is in place, he says. "What are you going to do if your evidence is damaged by a flood or fire?" he asks. "The worst thing you can do is not have a plan."

     To agencies preparing for natural disasters, Gilbert offers these thoughts:

  • Time is of the essence. Don't wait to decide what you're going to do with the wet items. At least get them stabilized so the damage doesn't get worse.
  • Know exactly what you have. Have a good inventory that indicates what types of analysis the items have gone through.
  • Chain of custody protocols should be in place.

     In court, the state was able to exhibit clothing as evidence after it was vacuum freeze-dried and restored by Munters, and the defendant was ultimately convicted of attempted murder and assault.

     No item that goes through a major flood is going to go back to the condition it was in before the flood, Gilbert says, but further damage can be prevented and make a big difference to a case.

If you need to borrow a lab…

     The six deployable forensic laboratories from the National Forensic Science Technology Center are available free of charge through a National Institute of Justice grant and can be deployed to address a variety of needs.

     If one 400-square-foot lab module doesn't provide enough room, modules can be set up side-by-side with a walkway between units.

     For more information, contact NFSTC Chief Executive Officer Kevin Lothridge at 727-549-6067.

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