~The Necessity of the Pre-Investigation Walk Though~
Information is Power. Sometimes, knowing the slightest sliver of information is the difference between success and failure. The prior knowledge of the Lay of the Land is a formidable piece of information in the right hands. Entire battles and portions of history have been decided simply because Generals and Warlords chose particular locations for their skirmishes to take place. Utilizing their prior knowledge of the area along with intelligence derived from initial scouting to develop a strategy for success. Knowing the Lay of the Land is no different in Paranormal Investigations. The initial walk through of an impending investigation location can be one of the most impactful pieces of intelligence from a time investment and safety perspective for your team. Prior to the first time investigation of a location (Residence, Business, pay-for-venue) every attempt possible should be made for an on-site walk through/inspection with the Client. This allows the investigator to assess the location, diagram/sketch/map out the floor plans and confirm allegedly areas of activity.
If your Team conducts a pre-investigation walk through/inspection with the client consider adding this basic question:
Is there any history with this property that would pose a health threat to any of my investigators or we should be aware of?
If you don’t ask, or fear this question you need to reconsider your priorities. The ability to help, whether as a first responder in an emergency situation or in the paranormal realm, requires fundamental safety practices to be present. We concede you can’t remove all risks for a Paranormal Investigation, but being informed and aware is the bare minimum of due diligence.
There is such a concern with helping clients that sometimes the very basics of safety and common sense take a backseat. The assessment phase of a walk through should immediately revolve around the safety of Investigators to return the location, followed by safety for your clients. Employees have O.S.H.A. to look out for their interests in the work place; the paranormal investigator has the Team Leads and initial assessment conducted during the walk through. Yes, helping clients is extremely important. But the Health and Safety of your Team should be Priority Number 1!
There are a host of Environmental concerns that should be listed and checked off prior to allowing a full blown investigation. The complete list for consideration would be enormous but please consider the basic issues like:
If the property looks deserted or abandoned you need to ask: WHY is it deserted?
Are there any structural Integrity issues?
Is the electricity rigged?
Is there Asbestos present?
Basement & Attics: (Consider adding Dust Masks to your Equipment Lists)
These areas are often forgotten by owners as areas of concern. Ask direct questions.
Does the basement flood? (mold)
Known vermin, bat, other pests including their waste or recent pesticide in the area?
Exposed wires, Boiler concerns, etc…
Meth Houses: (This is one of my favorite topics and I still have trouble believing this has to be covered.)
I’ve seen a dedicated Team eager to help a client claiming demonic issues who readily admitted the prior tenant (a family member now incarcerated) previously used the same location to make METH. The production of Meth Amphetamine involves several extremely toxic substances that can leach into the surrounding environment (floors, walls, etc) and pose serious health risks to anyone present. These are not issues that can be simply removed or dissipate over time. These by products require professionally trained specialist to isolate, identify, clean and safely render inert. PLEASE– do not investigate locations when you discover it was used, or is still in use, for the production of Meth or other illegal drugs! These Health Risks towards your team members cannot be more extreme.
If the walk through is the first face-to-face with a Client take advantage of this time period to assess their state of mind and the state of their environment. Simple deduction and observation may lead you to recognize other elements that may be responsible for the suspected paranormal complaint or you may recognize signs of intense drug or alcohol use that may require the investigation to be halted for Team Member safety concerns. We highly recommend that first time face-to-face client meetings and walk through/Inspections be attend by a minimum of two team members. Also, have predetermined requirements to address and report signs of illegal activity (Drugs, Child Abuse, etc.)
If there are not any obvious safety concerns then a diagram of the location is needed. While larger, paid for venues may have detailed diagrams available on their websites residential and small business will not have these available. For such a building or premises the rough diagram/sketch should cover every room, every floor, including all entry/exits, NSEW arrow and basic large furniture. These can quickly be jotted down on a sketch pad, translated to “paint” or other program of your choice. If not readily apparent be sure and ask the client where the fuse box is during the diagram/sketch phase and be sure to add it to your diagram. At this time digital pictures can be taken of each room for use in the pre-investigation meeting (note: these are not in depth photos that should be considered from each corner of the room during the set up of the investigation). Extra copies of the complete diagram should be available during equipment set up to mark where digital (DVR) recorder will be facing and to each investigator to note where audio recorders or hand held devices are placed. Combined with the Documentation Spreadsheet (see separate article) the combination of all this information provides robust and exact equipment placement for evidence review. Let me clarify that we are not advocating the exact measurement of every room, but rough sketches of each room with your notes and observations can be a real asset before and after the actual investigation.
After assessing the safety concerns and sketching your observations of the investigation location you should confirm you have all the pertinent info collected with the Client. Take time to sit down with the Client and revisit their own accounts to positively identify the areas of reported activity. Take notes and ask for any points of clarification. If possible revisit these particular areas and recount the activity to confirm you have a complete understanding of the alleged activity. Note electrical outlets to utilize for equipment deployment, consider camera angels that allow the widest berth of coverage that include entry/exits into the room.
Pre-planning, information gathering and strategy are 3 pieces of the Walk Through and Safety Assessment that will protect your Team and speed the equipment set up so your Investigation can move quickly. Two prime examples:
In 2009 while working with another Team I received a call to assist a group of investigators with a possible Paranormal Complaint. Essentially a family member had invited this Paranormal Team to investigate at another Family member’s house where the homeowner was hearing voices. When I pressed for more information the Team Lead eventually stated that the homeowner was depressed, drinking alcohol on a constant basis and was not overly thrilled about his sisters insistence that a Paranormal Team come to his home to investigate. This prompted me to ask more questions and discover that the homeowner was going to be home when the Team was present, likely drinking and had firearms in his household. It’s everyone’s right (of Legal age) to own a firearm and consume alcohol-but to go to someone’s house who did not personally invite you, is depressed, consuming depressants, hearing voices and readily accessible to weapons should be a Red Flag to step back and reassess what’s safe and what may be a dangerous situation. I think if the homeowner personally requested assistance and wasn’t actively drinking at the time of an investigation any Team would be willing to help. However, with the circumstances and facts revealed I politely refused.
In the fall of 2012 we returned to Bobby Mackey’s for a follow up investigation involving some return and some new Investigators. Pulling our Spreadsheet of the previous investigation, diagram map (complete with electrical outlets) we identified the hot spot areas we wished to record. Meeting with the new Investigators we revealed our game plan, determined our camera angles, cord placement, electrical outlet primary use (and a secondary if needed) at our hotel. As soon as we entered Bobby Mackey’s we had a complete DVR Surveillance set up with confirmed camera angles on target and recording in 22 minutes. Even the staff at BM’s stated it was the fastest Equipment set up they had ever witnessed.
Planning and Strategy: Two concepts that will strengthen your future Investigations….