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ISO Certification and the Value of Standardization: How FARO Helps Meet Public Safety’s Accreditation Needs

Faro Focus scanner being evaluated

In our fast-paced world of gigabit internet speeds, burgeoning artificial intelligence and the successful suborbital flights by American and British billionaires, the importance of global standardization might seem trite. Compared to phrases like IoT, Industry 4.0 and zero waste manufacturing, “standardization,” sounds… standard.

But upon closer inspection, an exciting truth emerges. Standardization is central to all industrial societies, both internal to them and external in how they communicate and share information with others. Standardization frames the logic behind global time zones (standard time) the advent of the URL (uniform resource locator) for web addresses and it’s what lets engineers agree that one horsepower equals 550 foot-pounds per second, or 745.7 watts. Without standardization there would be chaos.

In the public safety and forensic investigation arena, standardization is essential, too. That’s because the hardware and public safety diagramming software solutions that underpin the 3D laser scanning of crash/crime scenes, or that helps prepare compelling courtroom presentations, or assist in pre-event safety planning, must conform to established guidelines – agreed upon parameters that define quality data. For public safety professionals the governing body that ensures this interdepartmental and technological/measurement conformity is the ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization.

In the public safety and forensic investigation arena, standardization is essential, too. That’s because the hardware and public safety diagramming software solutions that underpin the 3D laser scanning of crash/crime scenes, or that helps prepare compelling courtroom presentations, or assist in pre-event safety planning, must conform to established guidelines – agreed upon parameters that define quality data. For public safety professionals the governing body that ensures this interdepartmental and technological/measurement conformity is the ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization.

“For law enforcement [the ISO] ensures consistency within these standards to provide a universal transparency and confidence in the science that we use,” explained Noreen Charlton, a FARO® Field Application Engineer and crime scene investigation expert in a recent online presentation. “These standards are in place to benefit all who work in the field of forensics – the public, the legal community and most importantly, the triers of fact, the juries.”

ISO certification serves three key practical purposes:

  1. The coordination of multiple countries, (government agencies as well as private and public sector organizations) all speaking the same technical language
  2. The ability for public safety professionals to establish forensic and best-practice process guidelines in an effort to reduce/eliminate human bias in data evaluation
  3. The marketing/promotional value of possessing an international governing body’s seal of approval

Which certification is right for you?

Founded in London in 1947, the ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. According to the organization’s website the ISO: “Brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.”

It’s easiest to think of ISO standards as the formalized best way of doing something. Quality management, environmental, health and safety, energy, food safety and IT security are just some examples of where the ISO offers its standardization imprint.

FARO is ISO certified in three categories – ISO 17020, ISO 17025 and to a less significant degree for an article on public safety, ISO 9001, which deals with corporate oversight best practices and customer service. ISO 17020 includes certification for conformity assessment requirements and is suited for police units without analytical testing capabilities whereas ISO 17025 enables laboratories and CSI units to demonstrate that they operate competently and generate valid results.

ISO 17025 also oversees instrumentation validation for the FARO® Focus Laser Scanner, (along with all FARO hardware and software products) and evaluates the product along six key metrics:

  • Validation of performance – Device performance checks via a FARO® SCENE Software registration report, verifies instrument reliability, accuracy, error rate, reproducibility and helps identify sources of error – e.g. selecting the appropriate resolution in long range scanning or accounting for minimal geometric differences on-scene. *ISO Accreditation requires these performance checks. Such performance validations can be performed in the registration report or through an on-site compensation
  • Calibration - Is a test or series of tests that compare measurement values to known standards. It is typically defined and documented by an industry, or developed and documented by a manufacturer based on stated quality requirements. Results are considered passing if deviations are within stated specifications for the device. *The product owners can perform the calibration themselves, or it can be sent to FARO to perform the check in-house – a service that’s recommended on an annual basis. In either case, all documentation of the calibration including the certification certificate, must be preserved for future courtroom or other third-party confirmation.
  • Maintenance - Includes a yearly service and calibration of the 3D scanner in-house. Service features include: cleaning, automated self-diagnostic testing, sensor adjustment and testing, accuracy testing, firmware updates, Wi-Fi connectivity, checking of the distance, intensity and angular sensors, along with the touchscreen and internal camera. *This is no different than maintenance for your car as both are significant investments. Likewise, with proper care, the Focus Scanner is designed to maintain its performance, barring extreme physicality.
  • Traceability and Reference measurements - The FARO scale bar, which has a known predetermined distance of 1,500 millimeters at 68F (20C) (subject to length changes at different temperatures, all properly documented), is a NIST-traceable (National Institute of Standards and Technology) object and helps verify the accuracy of the scanner. Simply place the scale bar in your scene and scan it to determine that the measurement scans match the predetermined distance. A known reference measurement is required at least once in every project, but some agencies require it in several scans. For non-NIST traceable requirements a tape measure or a yardstick.
  • Proficiency testing- In order to maintain ISO certification laser scanner users must institute proficiency testing. To that end, FARO offers three-day certification training course, five-day forensic certification training, and even courses to train the trainers so that even when not working with FARO experts, agency training on hardware and software solutions can continue independent of these training sessions. For agencies with low-call volume, FARO recommends performing a test scan of an office once a month, just to brush up on use skills, especially as the technology itself continues to evolve and advance. When it comes to providing courtroom testimony, FARO will provide an expert to the agency to explain and vouch for how the device is supposed to work. They will not testify as to how the scanner was used as no FARO expert was present during the actual scanning.
  • Repeatability - Everything recorded in SCENE is tracked and repeatable and none of the raw data is modified or altered – even if the user wipes the scan data project history. (Nothing is overwritten.) The firmware of the scanner also features an automatic digital signature that provides encrypted security to all raw scans at the time of capture with what amounts to a unique digital serial number. Last, the FARO free standalone Scan Verification tool (which is an app for download on FARO.com) compares original scan data with data in question to ensure the data has not been altered.

The ABCs of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)

As should be clear, ISO certification is not something that happens in a vacuum. Nor is it a standard solely met by FARO alone. Rather, it is a partnership of mutual due diligence between the ISO, FARO experts, the independent agencies FARO works with, and the internal quality assurance safeguards built into the hardware and software itself.

From an agency perspective, in addition to the above, what’s also essential is that each organization that adopts this technology establishes policies of use and standard operating procedures. This, too, aids in ensuring the repeatability and accuracy of quality scans.

Crime scene reconstruction

To do that, agencies should begin by drafting an overview of how they intend to use their laser scanner to augment their work. For example: 3D laser scanning provides digital renderings of the physical environment as a supplement to photography and other traditional scene capture methods. Overview of use could also include preparation for courtroom testimony or as a tool to inform a jury.

Next, map out the safety requirements when using the equipment on scene. Then, write out in detail the steps required to scan and document the scene, along with all the equipment needed to do the job right. Again, a paper trail – or its digital equivalent – helps demonstrate ISO certification worthiness and proves that your agency has dotted all its ‘i’s’ and crossed all its ‘t’s.’ If crafting such a document proves difficult or time consuming, FARO offers a quick how-to guide on its Knowledge Base, intended for that purpose. Finally, agencies must indicate to their laser scanner user exactly how they want them to document their laser scanning report.

A little over a century ago American industrialist and business mogul Henry Ford quipped, “if you think of standardization as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow – you get somewhere.” Whether it’s the ISO’s top brass, police chiefs and their officers alike, or it’s a FARO expert overseeing the calibration of a FARO Focus Scanner for its annual inspection and tune-up, it’s likely that none of them would debate that laser-focused insight.

With standards set, equipment tested and staff trained, ISO certification will continue providing FARO products – and the agencies that use them – the seal of approval they require.

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