Zone Search Pattern Method: Procedure, When to Use With Examples

The zone search method is a systematic search technique that breaks down the area into smaller, more manageable zones to ensure a thorough and organized search.

Other Names: Quadrant or Map Grid searching method.

By dividing the area into distinct zones, investigators can focus on each section individually and employ various search methods as needed.

When to Use Zone Search Method?

The zone search method is ideal for situations where the crime scene is extensive. Some examples of crime scene situations where zone search technique can be employed:

  • Large outdoor areas, such as parks or fields.
  • Complex indoor locations, like multi-room buildings or warehouses.
  • Scenes with multiple points of interest or distinct areas requiring separate investigation. Eg: ‘Zone A’ needs serology-based documentation while ‘Zone B’ needs ballistic-based documentation.
  • Scenarios where multiple teams or individuals need to be coordinated for an efficient search.

Procedure (Step-by-Step)

Procedure for zone search pattern method

Following is the procedure for the zone search method ensuring no areas are overlooked.

  1. Creating Zones: Divide the search area into smaller, more manageable zones. This can be done by creating a rough sketch of the area or by physically marking the boundaries using stakes and string.
  2. Labeling Zones: Label each zone with a unique identifier, and place a notepad or piece of paper.
  3. Sub-zone Search Patterns: Choose an appropriate search pattern in each zone, such as the spiral, strip, or grid.
  4. Documentation: Searchers sign and list the date and time of the search. This records who searched a specific zone.
  5. Marking off zones: A rough sketch of the area can be used to mark off searched zones with a marked date and time of search completion.
  6. Continue until Completion: Continue searching and marking off zones until the entire area has been thoroughly examined.
  7. Evidence Collection: Collect all the evidence that is documented and needed to collect.

How to Do Zone Searches at Crime Scene? (Practical Examples)

how to perform zone searches at crime scene with practical examples

Crime History: A crime is reported that involves a large warehouse. Investigators visited the site and found a need to divide the vast warehouse area into multiple zones.

Here is the step-by-step procedure, for how to systematically examine a large crime scene using the zone search method:

Step 1: Assessment

Investigators first assess the size and complexity of the warehouse, identifying different areas such as storage rooms, offices, loading docks, and the main floor.

Step 2: Division

The warehouse is divided into smaller zones based on its layout and distinct areas. For example, separate zones could be assigned to the offices, storage rooms, and each section of the main floor.

Step 3: Marking and labeling

Each zone is physically marked using stakes and strings or tape, and labeled with a unique identifier. A rough sketch of the warehouse layout is created that shows zones.

Step 4: Selecting Search Pattern

Investigators decide on the most appropriate search pattern for each zone, such as a grid search for the main floor or a strip search for the storage rooms.

Step 5: Searching Zones

Searchers begin to systematically examine each zone using the selected search pattern. Meanwhile, the searchers needed to maintain the records (for example name, date, and time of the search).

Step 6: Documentation

Document any evidence found within the zones, including photographs, scales, and notes.

Step 7: Marking off Zones

As zones are completed, they are marked off on the rough sketch to keep track of the search progress.

Step 8: Review and follow-up

After all zones have been searched, investigators review the findings, cross-check the notepads, and ensure that no zone has been overlooked.

If necessary, they may decide to re-examine specific zones or expand the search to adjacent areas.

Step 9: Evidence Collection

Once the search is complete and all evidence is documented, investigators collect and package the evidence for further analysis.

Read More: How to Search Vehicles for Evidence? A Practical Guide and Tips

Another Example 2: Large Park Crime Scene

Case History: In the case of an outdoor crime scene, for example, a large park, the process for searching is the case as above. Here is the simpler form of zone search crime scene in steps:

  1. The park is divided into smaller zones, such as playgrounds, wooded areas, and open fields.
  2. Zones are marked and labeled using stakes and strings, and an overall sketch of the park is created.
  3. Investigators choose search patterns for each zone, such as a line search for wooded areas.
  4. Searchers examine zones using selected patterns, documenting any evidence found.
  5. On completion, searchers record their name, date, and time on a notepad near each zone.
  6. Zones are marked off on the sketch as they are searched.
  7. After all, zones are examined, investigators review the findings and collect evidence.

Advantages of Zone Search Method

  1. It allows a systematic and organized approach to large or complex crime scenes.
  2. Breaking the search area into smaller zones makes the search more manageable and reduces the risk of losing any important evidence.
  3. By using other crime scene search methods within individual zones, the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall search are enhanced.
  4. Tracking who searched each zone, and then ensures that the search is comprehensive and allows for better coordination among investigators.

Disadvantages of Zone Search Method

  1. It can be time-consuming, as it requires careful planning and organization.
  2. The process of physically marking zones with stakes and strings can be labor-intensive, especially in large or challenging environments.
  3. Coordination among multiple investigators searching different zones may require additional supervision.
  4. May not be suitable for smaller or less complex crime scenes.


1. Wear protective gear: Each investigator or search must wear protective gloves, shoes, masks, etc., to maintain the integrity of the crime scene and reduce evidence contamination.

2. Properly mark zones: Ensure that all zones are marked and labeled to avoid confusion and overlapping searches. While marking, also check the boundaries for evidence.

3. Thorough documentation: Maintain accurate documentation of findings, searcher details, and search progress to track the investigation and prevent missed evidence.

4. Adequate resources: Allocate appropriate resources, such as personnel and equipment, to ensure effective searches in each zone.

5. Coordination and communication: Establish clear communication channels between searchers and team leaders to keep everyone informed about the search progress and any new findings.

6. Preserve evidence: Handle evidence carefully to prevent damage, contamination, or loss.

7. Secure the crime scene: Control access to the scene to avoid unauthorized entry.


1. Time-consuming: The size of the search area can be overwhelming, requiring more time to cover it thoroughly.

2. Varying terrain and conditions: Zones may have different terrains and conditions, requiring searchers to adapt their methods and use specialized equipment. 

3. Weather conditions: Adverse weather conditions, such as rain or snow, can hinder the search process and degrade evidence.

4. Limited Resources: A shortage of personnel or specialized equipment can slow down the search process, particularly in extensive search areas.

5. Incomplete or misleading information: Inaccurate or incomplete information about the crime scene can lead to loss or misinterpretation of what to collect and what not.

General FAQs

How are zones determined in the zone search method?

Zones can be determined based on the size of the area, types of evidence, or specific features within the crime scene that require focused attention.

Do investigators search zones simultaneously or sequentially?

Depending on the available resources and team size, zones can be searched simultaneously or sequentially to maintain efficiency and thoroughness.

Is the zone search method suitable for both indoor and outdoor crime scenes?

Yes, the zone search method is versatile and can be effectively applied to both indoor and outdoor crime scenes, regardless of their size and complexity.


  • Crime Scene Processing and Investigation Workbook, Second Edition By Christine R. Ramirez, Casie L. Parish-Fisher [link]
  • Henry Lee’s Crime Scene Handbook By Henry C. Lee, Timothy Palmbach, Marilyn T. Miller [link]
  • Crime Scene Forensics: A Scientific Method Approach By Robert C Shaler [link]
  • Crime Scene Management within Forensic science [link]
  • Wheel (Ray) Search Pattern: Procedure, When to use With Example [link]

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