The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the assignment of some $7.7 million for the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Institute, known as the ICF in Spanish.
This grant will cover work to repair damage to the only expert research center of its kind on the island and aims to improve the building’s capabilities in future events.
The federal award also includes funding for the acquisition of new, specialized scientific equipment used by the ICF in its research, to replace those damaged by the hurricane. Similarly, the million-dollar amount serves as reimbursement for the costs incurred by the Institute to restore this equipment.
“FEMA’s efforts on the island encompass several sectors, including those related to the safety of its citizens. Our team recognizes the impact of being part of the recovery of the Forensic Science Institute to strengthen the rendering of its expert analyses, on which Puerto Rico depends,” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Alex Amparo.
Among the initial work already completed is the replacement of gas chromatography processing machines and flame ionization detector, nitrogen generators and other specialized equipment to analyze scientific evidence.
This grant will also make other improvements possible, such as in the administrative offices and autopsy rooms, as well as in the toxicology, histopathology, controlled substances and forensic anthropology laboratories. Other areas that will benefit from the allocation are the evidence receiving and storage rooms, the ballistics office and pathology offices.
“This obligation impacts the Institute in a very positive way because after the hurricane there were leaks on the roof, and important scientific equipment can be damaged. The repair of the roof ensures that the equipment with which we perform chemical and DNA analysis, for example, is not damaged and that the computer servers are not damaged,” said Dr. Maria Conte, Commissioner of the Forensic Science Bureau.
On the other hand, about $1.7 million of the grant is earmarked for improvements that will provide greater resilience to the physical plant of this institute that is dedicated to scientific and forensic examination and analysis. Mitigation measures such as the installation of a waterproofing membrane on the roof, the installation of electric light poles around the building, improvements to the drainage systems and the installation of storm-resistant windows will help strengthen the building, which was built in 1992.
“The Bureau is a critical and fundamental component in Puerto Rico both in emergencies and in security matters. In addition, it is crucial in the analysis and storage of evidence in cases brought before the courts,” said Ottmar Chavez, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3).
The ICF consists of three divisions specializing in medical-legal and toxicological analysis, forensic investigation and crime labs. To date, nearly $9.3 million has been obligated to the Institute between emergency work and permanent work as a result of Hurricane María.
ICF shut down as 4 employees test positive to COVID-19
In related news, the ICF building was shut down for 24 hours Thursday after four employees tested positive for COVID-19 after taking molecular tests, Department of Public Safety Secretary Pedro Janer said.
“I immediately gave instructions for the building to be closed for 24 hours while a decontamination process is completed and the personnel are subjected to the corresponding tests,” said Janer, head of the ICF’s umbrella agency.
“According to the information they have given us, employees work in different areas of the ICF. As established in the protocols, measures will be taken so that the services may resume as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that 130,000 square feet of the building will be disinfected with a bactericidal product called Sparicidin.