Japanese, U.S. explore sharing lab resources in times of crises
Stars and Stripes June 27, 2007
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — When any technician on "CSI" puts a brightly colored piece of tape across a manila envelope, most Americans watching the police drama understand: A key item of evidence has just been secured in the quest to solve a mystery.
But in Japan, the "chain of custody" process is much less familiar, according to U.S. Army health officials at Camp Zama.
Securing evidence was one of the main issues discussed this week as U.S. and Japanese military and health officials work toward a policy to share laboratory space and testing capabilities in times of crises.
Evidence tampering, whether in a scientific study or a criminal investigation, is rarely an issue, according to Lt. Col. Tetsuro Kagao, who works in the defense policy division of Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
"We are not used to worrying about that kind of thing," he said Wednesday. "But it’s the international standard. We would like to study it more."
The effort to share resources began about two years ago, according to Raymond Roy, the director of laboratory services for the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine–Pacific. The Army center tests for disease and contaminants for the military throughout the Pacific, and it also can discern samples from other countries in Asia who request assistance.
Both militaries and governments would like a better agreement to ensure quicker testing and response to chemical weapon attacks, infectious disease outbreaks or even local water contaminations. Currently, that sharing can happen only with approval from cabinet-level officials, or their bosses, Roy said.
"We all want to protect the health of Japanese soldiers and civilians, and of American soldiers and civilians," Army Col. Nancy Vause, the commander of the Army center, told the group. "The best way for us to do that is to work together."
To put a more workable plan in place, both countries have been visiting each other’s testing laboratories and sharing techniques, Roy said.
The United States and Japan have common technologies in testing, Roy said. One of the major differences is how the Japanese handle evidence.
The Americans must secure and sign for any sample or piece of evidence as it is collected, transported, tested and stored. The Japanese do not have a similar system, Kagao said.
The two countries would also like to share facilities in case an attack or a natural disaster renders one unusable, said Tomohiko Makino, an international risk management coordinator for Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
"It would enhance our abilities," he said.
Hammering out a final agreement will take time, Roy said, and he hesitated to offer a timeline. But he said the interest from the Japanese officials was more than encouraging.
"People think it’s an important topic," he said of the Japanese visitors on Zama. "That’s the thing I’m glad to see."