Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Who needs the Medical examiner when the Brian Smith is "Clairvoyant"?

August 8, 2003

Going…Going…Going Online This Fall
High demand spurs College’s Death Investigation Program to offer Internet courses worldwide

When Del Mar College began offering its Death Investigation Program two years ago, 33 students began taking one of the first three courses developed. Over 100 other local students had to put their name on a waiting list to enroll in the classes.

But a partnership that emerged nearly four years ago with the U.S. Congress, the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office in Washington State, the Nueces County Medical Examiners Office and local computer software company INDX, Inc. is now putting death investigation at the forefront on the Internet. This fall, Del Mar will begin offering its courses online to reach more students across the country–even around the world.

“Our program has grown exponentially during the past two years,” says John Graham, instructor of criminal justice. “And we expect even more growth when our online degree program is promoted internationally through the NOMIS Project.” Online courses the College will offer include Death Investigation I, Death Investigation II and the Legal and Social Aspects of Death and Dying.

The Network of Medicolegal Investigative Systems, known as NOMIS, is a computer program developed and owned by INDX, Inc. The company offered to modify NOMIS for the government to assist in the investigation of tracking incidences of death, including those caused by weapons of mass destruction and bioterrorism. The program will facilitate the collection, analysis and retrieval of data in several areas, including identification of missing/unidentified deceased persons; mass fatality victim identification; investigator training and certification; electronic death registration; evidence control and disposition; Emergency Room casualty tracking; military combat aid station tracking; contagious diseases and epidemics; AMBER Alert communications; serial homicides; among several others.

NOMIS will offer a comprehensive solution to the needs of medicolegal and law enforcement jurisdictions and provide a common national infrastructure that serves multiple agencies at all levels of government. National security, national defense, criminal justice, public health and disaster mitigation, response and recovery will all benefit from the application.

The partnership is sponsoring the deployment of the NOMIS Basic Death Investigation Web Service application this month with an anticipated in-depth testing date set for Aug. 8. The Web site, located at, will also link to Del Mar’s Death Investigation Program.

Of the partnership, Graham says, “This marriage was made in heaven, not only for Del Mar College but for the entire nation.” He reiterates that under the agreement, NOMIS will provide worldwide instant access to the College’s Death Investigation Program while Del Mar will have perpetual access to data stored onsite for research purposes or educational needs. “This is a great deal for us.”
Graham says that in 2001, U.S. Congressman Solomon Ortiz successfully funneled a line item appropriation through the Department of Justice as part of the 2002 national budget to fund INDX, Inc.’s expansion of the NOMIS application’s abilities.

According to Graham, NOMIS was created using “what experts called an impossible amount of funding, only $300,000, to complete what normally takes millions of dollars.” Del Mar College and INDX, Inc. worked together and are now close to completing the second version of the application.

“Del Mar College has achieved a minor miracle with the funding received in the line item appropriation,” he notes. “We created a new degree, a national data collection program and retained the right to access data from that program. We could not afford to purchase this kind of powerful tool or build it without the dedication of College faculty with the Legal Professions and Computer Science Departments and Information Technology personnel, who all had a hand in making this a reality.”

Additionally, Del Mar Criminal Justice students tested the Alpha version of NOMIS using a simulated attack on the Port of Corpus Christi. Many fatalities were incorporated into the exercise so that students could pretend to be first responders to a central emergency command post.

“With no training, they were able to master the program and begin downloading data within five minutes,” Graham says. “This type of usability is of paramount importance. If this system had been available on 9-11, the process of recovery and identification may have been enhanced.”

Graham says that requests for entry into the Death Investigation Program continuously come from individuals across the nation. “Demand is high, but now that the program will be promoted on the NOMIS Project homepage, the Legal Professions Division is gearing up for an additional influx of requests,” he says.

“We’re literally calling medical examiners and investigators all over the country to recruit adjunct instructors to teach this fall’s online courses,” Graham adds. “I’ve even spoken to a forensic pathologist in Great Britain.”

“Del Mar College is the only institution of higher education that offers a degree program in Death Investigation,” notes Graham. “Combined with the national deployment of NOMIS, the number of requests for this degree are probably going to be beyond our immediate ability to respond. What a wonderful problem to have.”


Sidebar Story:

Death Investigation Student Currently Working in Field
Director of Morgue Services with Nueces County Medical Examiners Office close to finishing program

She only lacks taking five classes to complete Del Mar College’s Death Investigation Program. But as Alex Medina puts it, “The field is not for everyone.”

“You don’t know what work is going to be like from one day to the next,” says Medina, a criminal justice and death investigations major and the director of morgue services at the Nueces County Medical Examiners Office. “You deal with death every day, and you see people you have known, friends or someone you went to school with. You just don’t know who you’ll see until you pull the cover back.”
The Corpus Christi native enrolled in Death Investigations courses when the College’s Department of Legal Professions began offering the program in fall 2001. Medina says her extensive experience in healthcare, including clinical, administrative and emergency services have been beneficial as she’s worked through the program.

“I enrolled in the Death Investigation Program during its infancy,” she notes. “But the program is expanding and is great for students here in Corpus Christi.” She notes that the high employment demand in the field means graduates have opportunities to find positions all over the country.

Prior to returning to Corpus Christi three years ago, Medina joined the U.S. Navy and began serving as a corpsman and EMT (emergency medical technician) in 1987. The 34-year-old is a nationally registered EMT, a certified medical assistant and a licensed ambulance driver.

But, Medina’s fascination with forensics and work with several pathology groups over the years spurned her interest to enroll in the Death Investigation Program when she decided to go back to college. “I started taking 22 to 26 credit hours when I enrolled,” she says. “I also wanted to get my foot in the door and made myself known to Ric Ortiz, who’s the chief investigator in the county’s Medical Examiners Office and was one of the first adjunct instructors to teach courses in the new program.”

“During class tours of the facility, I made a point of meeting the forensic staff and kind of pushed my way in here,” she muses. “When a position became available, I applied for it and went through the same process as the other candidates. But my education and work experience was key to my getting the position.”

Medina says death investigations is very demanding--physically and psychologically. “People are fascinated as to why I chose this field, but I believe I am where I’m suppose to be at this time in my life. I find the work intriguing. It’s like solving a puzzle.”

She adds, “This field requires special people who can find the answers as to why or how someone died.”


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