Pre Con

Pre Con: History Repeats at AAFS

American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) 2013 Annual Meeting, scheduled for Feb. 18–23 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The event is AAFS’s 65th Anniversary Meeting, and a special celebration is in the works – beyond the usual premier industry conference. In 2012, 3,900 forensic scientists, researchers, medical experts, and government agents met in Atlanta to discuss new findings in the world of forensic sciences. “Year to year,” said Sondra Doolittle, AAFS’s meetings and events manager, “there are [forensic] experts around the world that take an interest in things – it could be on any subject – and we usually see [those ideas] show up in our meeting and educational content.”


Every year, Doolittle and her team have more than one meeting to deal with. “The National Association of Medical Examiners come and host their interim meeting within our meeting,” Doolittle said. In fact, AAFS has more than 200 affiliate organizations that will host scientific programs under its Annual Meeting. Some groups, such as the American Society of Forensic Odontology, hold their own annual conference within AAFS’s. “We have anywhere from regional associations to other national associations that meet under our umbrella,” Doolittle said, “because they know their people are going to be there.”

With so many meetings within one conference, organizers “always [have] a space issue,” Doolittle said. “Now we’re trying to fit well over 359 sessions into the space. We’re fortunate enough that we’re not seeing a decline in attendance, but with that comes more groups. It’s just trying to fit the big puzzle together so everyone gets what they want.”

But in 2013 the puzzle is even bigger, with more than 4,500 attendees expected. “D.C. is always a big draw for us, because we have more government employees in the D.C. area,” Doolittle said. “We get a lot of Secret Service, FBI, those types of attendees that are local.”

The Annual Meeting also includes an industry exhibition showcasing hundreds of forensic products and services. “Although we were in D.C. in 2008,” Doolittle said, “facilities change, meeting spaces change, so we never have the same puzzle every year.”


In order to commemorate the 65th Anniversary Meeting, the 2013 Annual Meeting will have a special, historical twist. Delegates will have the opportunity to travel through time, by unearthing and investigating landmark moments in the history of forensic investigations. “Our president [wanted to include] some of the historical anniversary events,” Doolittle said, “so he picked a few to highlight, like the assassination of JFK – 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of that – and the sinking of the Titanic.”

The sessions highlighting these historical anniversaries will be a kind of “last word of the investigation of these events,” Doolittle said, where forensic experts will offer final conclusions, theorizing and discussing their findings with attendees. “It’s interesting from the forensics standpoint,” Doolittle said. “You’ll see viewpoints that just in a historical perspective you would never think of.” One workshop will be an interpretive bus tour tracking John Wilkes Booth’s movements in and around Washington, D.C., the day he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. “I’m anticipating it’ll be one of our most popular sessions.”

The theme for 2013’s meeting is “The Forensic Sciences: Founded on Observation and Experience, Improved by Education and Research,” which was chosen by AAFS’s 2012–2013 president. Each year, the president is nominated by the general membership at the Annual Meeting, and he or she decides on the next year’s theme. “Our program committee will try to gear the program towards that [theme],” Doolittle said, “but we’re not limiting them, because science changes so much and technology is evolving so quickly. We’re still expanding knowledge about new technology and techniques in forensic sciences.”

Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.