Thursday, September 23, 2010

What We've Been Doing

A Peek Into the New Maryland Medical Examiner's Facility

Fair warning - if you are squeamish about subjects related to death and dying, then this post may not be the best one for you to read.

As many of you know this blog highlights my ongoing travels. Much of this travel is the direct result of being a founder of the architectural firm that plans most of the worlds most sophisticated buildings for law enforcement and the forensic sciences.

Occasionally I prepare a post that showcases one of our recent buildings. These one-of-a-kind buildings are usually built with tax dollars. Yet because of the sensitive work they do, and the routine handling of evidence within, once in operation, they are frequently restricted in their availability for tours. Despite that, please believe me, you can be very proud of the work performed in them. They are a tool in the search for truth, and routinely they protect life while preventing further criminal activity by some of societies worst predators.

In the past two weeks we have dedicated two new buildings; police facility (in suburban Chicago) and Maryland's new Forensic Medical Center in Baltimore. 

Here is a mini tour of the Medical Examiner Facility. Or what many of you would simply call "the morgue".

The new $54,000,000 Medical Examiner Facility was built as part of the University of Maryland's BioPark. It will serve as the new home for the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland (the nations oldest statewide Medical Examiner system). The new facility with its two main autopsy suites, spaces for special autopsy (w/special BSL3 bio-safety precautions), will serve not only Maryland's needs, but will undoubtedly be in demand throughout the east (since it houses specialized spaces and equipment found almost nowhere else in North America). 

Designed specifically as a research and teaching facility it will also offer unique training opportunities for forensic pathologists throughout the world.

A Compact Site Resulted in a Space Efficient Vertical Design


Dr. David Fowler Conducts a Tour For Congressman Elijah Cummings

The unique features of the facility include two 3-story autopsy suites flooded with natural light and outfitted with the latest digital camera systems. Each is fitted with full observation decks for the use by students and field investigators. 

The View From the Observation Area

A Full Body CAT Scanner is Located Between Autopsy Suites

The neuro-pathology training lab is positioned to allow for wonderful views of surrounding Baltimore as well as overhead views into each of the two main autopsy suites.

The Neuro-Pathology Lab

If a case arrives that is suspected to pose bioloigcal risk, special facilities are available. The case will be transported in a specially isolated elevator, stored in an isolated cooler, and autopsied in suites designed to meet stringent bio-safety level 3 standards.


Biosafety Level 3 Protection

There are labs for Histology, Toxicology, and Odentology. Each of these labs are surrounded by "clean" office areas for staff to return calls and prepare for court.

Overhead "Snorkels" Will Draw off Heat and Odors From
Scientific Instrumentation in the New Toxicology Lab

Another feature of the facility is its viewing room for the meticulously crafted death scene miniatures referred to as the "Nutshells". The Nutshells were created in the 1940's by Frances Glessner Lee for Harvard's Forensic Pathology program. Everything needed to solve the crime is in each "nutshell" (i..e. "thats it in a nutshell"). According to Bruce Goldfarb (see: Ms. Lee may have been the inspiration for the character Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. 

After Lee's death in 1962, Maryland's chief medical examiner Dr. Russell Fisher, a former instructor at Harvard, secured a permanent loan of the Nutshells from the Lee family. The Nutshells are still used in homicide investigation seminars, and after a complete restoration last year, now have a wonderful new home.

One of The "Nutshells" Death Scene Miniatures

One feature you won't see is the carefully planned and somewhat incredible mechanical plant that is needed to scrub water and air for the facility which is located in a rooftop penthouses above the facility.

Upblast Exhauster's That "Blast" Air From the Facility

I am so proud of our Virginia staff. They outdid themselves planning this amazing facility!

So next time you curl up with a "Kay Scarpetta" murder mystery or watch CSI, NCIS, or an episode of "Bones", remember Team Roadboy is working hard for you!

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The "Best Rate Guarantee" Sham

It Is A Hoax

Rant Warning!

A few weeks back I was surfing for a good room rate for a business meeting in Los Angeles. I came across an amazing rate at the downtown Sheraton hotel using Kayak. The rate was much better than the rate Starwood was quoting on their website, so I clicked the best rate guarantee and made a claim.

All the major hotel chains say that they protect anyone booking on their websites from missing out on a better rate somewhere else. They all say if you book on their websites and then within so many hours find a better rate, they will will verify the rate and honor the lower rate plus give you something in the way of a gift certificate or something to reward you for your loyalty. To have a valid claim the rate you find must be transparent (i.e. it cannot be a through Hotwire or Priceline - where the name of the hotel is disclosed only after your purchase is made), and it must be available to anyone (i.e. it can't require a special membership at AAA or Costco for example).

The guarantee sounds good.

It isn't.

The catch is two-fold, first you must book your room at the chains site (at the higher rate). This allows you to initiate your claim. Second, the chain must verify that they can "match" the rate when they (finally) get around to checking. Of course if the lower rate has evaporated - you are stuck with the higher room rate.

So even though I copied proof of the lower rate as a pdf and forwarded it with my claim, 48 hours later when Starwood "verified" the rate, it was (of course) gone.

Claim Denied! I'm stuck with the higher rate.

So I cancelled my Starwood reservation and booked a new reservation using Hotwire. Actually, Hotwire came through again netting me an even better rate at a better hotel (the Westin.)

Today it happened again, but this time it was with Hilton. The Anaheim Hilton advertised its lowest pre-paid rate at $89 per nght (which is in itself a good rate), but the same room was $73.84 using

Hilton requires that a claim be filed either on-line or by phone with a representative. I thought well since last time I did it online and got burned, this time I'd try a real live human being. 

I then spent 25 minutes on the phone with a very nice reservationist at Hilton's call center in Dallas. He was baffled how to process the claim, but with the help of his supervisor we muddled through.

Again I had to make a reservation with Hilton (which I did - at a higher refundable rate), then the call taker verified the lower rate on-line and commented "Wow! That is good rate!". I figured since the Hilton staffer saw the proof, it would be readily verified. 

No so!

I was organizing the trip for a large group, so in the meantime I notified the other travelers to book rooms at easyclick while I waited for Hilton to verify my claim. Luckily they all went ahead and booked at the bargain rate.

About midnight I got an e-mail from one LaTeasa Brumfeld telling me that (despite me having someone at Hilton verify my "great rate"), now 10 hours later, since she could not match the rate with, my claim was being rejected. So once again my efforts were rewarded with the chain offering me nothing but the higher room rate.

Of course when I went back, the rate at had indeed jumped to the $89.

So I am two for two. And what exactly has Roadboy learned?

When you see a good rate, pounce! Don't bother telling the hotel chains anything! The "Best Rate Guarantee" is merely the sham (tool) the hotel chains use to have us road warrier's rat out deep discounters and police the net for them.

Roadboy's Travels © 2010