Onorato Officially Opens County’s New Medical Examiner Facility

countylogo.jpg Crime lab receives prestigious ASCLD accreditation – first for any county in Pa.
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato today officially opened the new Medical Examiner facility, which includes the County’s crime lab and morgue. The 80,000- square-foot facility will provide forensic, analytical and medical testing services to law enforcement agencies throughout Allegheny County.

“This state-of-the-art facility includes a number of new features that will improve the medical examiner’s efficiency and effectiveness, including a secure 24-hour evidence drop-off area, on- site vehicle processing, firing range, and unique DNA lab,” said Onorato. “We’re very proud of this facility, which is one of the best of its kind in the country.”

Allegheny County’s forensic laboratory is the first in the nation to combine a seamless automated system with an expert data analysis system in its DNA/serology section. Extraction of DNA for analysis will become entirely automated through the use of robotics, a process that was
done manually at the previous lab. The new crime lab also has an indoor firing range with a rubber lamella trap, the newest product in fire range technology. The range is in a specially enforced area that features an air supply that flows in the same direction as the bullet, offering better protection to staff from lead. The area has a floating floor for vibration and acoustic dampening. A special ballistics water tank allows the firearms section to test-fire more powerful cartridges than before. A scanning electron microscope will enable staff to identify unique particles in gunshot residue.

The facility’s design takes advantage of exterior windows to carry natural lighting to the interior through the use of “borrowed” lights, which reduce the need for artificial lighting and saves energy. The facility also has an automated lighting control system that conserves energy through motion sensors and scheduled shut-off times.

“We are always looking for ways to conserve energy and save money in our facilities,” added Onorato. “The facility’s onsite generator will allow us to take advantage of energy credits during peak usage times, and it will enable us to continue operations in the event of a power outage.”

A deionized water system re-circulates unused water, decreasing waste and lessening flow to the city sewer system. An exhaust air heat recovery system and high efficiency boilers also conserve energy. A separate air exchange system for the morgue provides better air quality throughout the
entire building.

The facility’s module lab design increases flexibility and adaptability for future growth and changes in testing methods. The facility includes a special area for the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, as well as a separate autopsy area for brain research. There is 4,300 square feet of high density storage for evidence in the new facility, compared with just 700 square feet in the old lab. The facility features separate evidence storage areas for guns, drugs and DNA. Seventy-five security cameras are located inside and outside of the building.

Representatives of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) were on hand to present the County Executive and Medical Examiner, Dr. Karl Williams, with a certificate of accreditation for the forensic laboratory, making it one of only 361 accredited crime labs in the country and the first accredited county lab in Pennsylvania.

“This prestigious honor is further evidence of the dedication and professionalism of our employees in the Medical Examiner’s office,” said Onorato. “I want to congratulate Dr. Williams and his staff for this achievement and for their continued commitment to the people of Allegheny County.”

The former morgue was located at 542 Fourth Avenue in a building that was constructed at the turn of the last century and first occupied in 1902. The crime lab was located in the basement of the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Avenue. The new facility will officially begin operations at 12:00 a.m. on Sat., July 18.