Mobile Forensics Laboratory Helps Cedar Rapids CSI Recover From Devastating Flood

Sidebar to the article From Battlefield to Homefront: Mobile Laboratories Are Changing the Way We Respond to Crisis.

by Bill Cote

In his 18 years on the force, Cedar Rapids Police Sergeant Joe Clark thought he had seen it all. However, nothing prepared him for the sight of the department's crime lab swamped in more than eight feet of water.

"It was unbelievable. Water was almost up to the ceiling," he said. "The crime lab was completely ruined."

Luckily, in what they thought was an abundance of caution, his investigative unit had moved its new Automated Fingerprint Identification System out of the crime lab that occupied the basement of its headquarters before the flood. However, no one had anticipated that more than 30 feet of water would engulf the city. The rest of the forensic equipment was destroyed.

For a few months, the officers conducted forensics analysis in a makeshift lab set up in an unventilated garage.

"You can imagine how difficult that was — with cross-contamination and security issues," said Clark. "Not to mention how cold it got in there as fall arrived."

Clark contacted Joe Polski, chief operating officer of the International Association for Identification, who put him in touch with the National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo, Fla., to discuss using one of its mobile labs. Within a few weeks, Clark had a 400-square-foot mobile forensics lab up and running in the parking lot.

Although the town of Cedar Rapids is still a long way from being back to normal after the historic flood, the Police Department's crime scene investigation unit is now running again. "I don't know what we would have done without this lab," said Clark. "Our evidence processing ability would have been next to nothing during the last several months. And we can't just quit investigating crimes because we get flooded."

About the Author

Bill Cote is on staff at the National Forensic Science Technology Center. Back to the top.

Date Created: October 29, 2009