Investigation Procedures (Part 1 of 5)
By R. Wolf Baldassarro
If you’ve been following my column for some time, by now you should have a pretty good grasp of the history of paranormal research and with the tools, tech, and spiritual workings associated with the field. So now it’s time to go out and put all that into practice. In this series we’ll discuss the steps for a successful and professional investigation. There are five major components to an investigation- group design and organization, research procedures, the investigation, the analysis, and follow-up.
First of all don’t be overeager. It’s okay to have fun and enjoy the experience but keep your thoughts and emotions in check, and the foolishness to a minimum. You don’t want a teammate’s recorder to pick you up laughing or goofing off in another room and mistake it for something paranormal. Not only is it disrespectful to the home or business owner, the spirits which may be haunting the location, your teammates, and the field of parapsychology in general but you are in someone’s home for a serious and scientific study not in a carnival funhouse for a good time.
Resolve your fears and preconceived notions of the paranormal and look at each investigation with a clean slate. Every case will be unique because individuality is just as much a part of the other side as it is here in the physical world. Don’t expect anything or compare every little event to previous investigations. Let things occur and flow naturally because in a calm and natural atmosphere you’ll have the best chances for capturing quantifiable evidence.
Just as we would be cautious of the spirits’ intentions, we must also be cautious of who we invite along on the hunt. Your teammates must be chosen with the expectation of honesty and integrity. Choose wisely when interviewing members for your organization, as unfortunately there are many dishonest people that may cause more upset in a client’s home than the unwanted spirit. Furthermore you don’t want your group’s reputation to hinge on the actions of a fool. The Deep Forest Paranormal Society has a specific application that hopeful candidates must fill out if they want to join our team. This can go a long way toward weeding out potential problems. Every member of DFPS must have one of these and a signed agreement clause on file before they are allowed to participate in any official group activities. You can download an example of the MS Word document at this link: DFPS Member Application
Beyond the paperwork and red tape, members should be extensively trained in safety, technology and protocol requirements. Establish basic parameters and guidelines for central ghost hunting procedures. Also of great importance is the establishment of a leadership structure or chain of command. Create departments like technology, case management, transportation, research, analysis teams, spirituality, and so forth. The knowledge individuals bring to the group may benefit specific departments or talents. Someone with extensive training and knowledge in photography is best suited on the analysis team where they could help debunk anomalous photos, not doing background research. In addition you don’t need the team to be on investigation and have everyone acting like they’re the boss. With everyone playing top dog no one will follow and there will be no cooperation, no format, and no professionalism.
I’ve said many times that the main issue I have with many so-called “ghost hunting groups” is they’re run like an after-school hobby group with no organization, code of conduct, or guidelines. To make sure everyone is on the same page- literally- it’s wise to have some kind of written document explaining command structure, job descriptions and responsibilities, and procedural notes. Everyone in my group is given a 30-page manual that was drafted by my lead investigator that explains all that including attendance requirements and disciplinary steps. Again this is a serious scientific field and a job. Granted it’s all done on a volunteer basis but to not look at it as you would a paying job and to have no real control over the way you operate in someone’s home spits in the face of science and it’s no wonder the general scientific community doesn’t take us seriously.
Many groups say to start with cemeteries. There are pros and cons to this, but mostly cons. These groups do nothing more than go to cemeteries and abandoned buildings and think they’re ghost hunters just because they sneak into them in the dark of night on a regular basis and snap a few pictures and audio recordings. The first obvious con is that most cemeteries are closed at dusk, making you an illegal trespasser if you’re stomping around after dark. You are free to roam around cemeteries during normal operating times and do as you wish but you must still be respectful of those who lie in them as well as the rules of those who run the grounds. It is NEVER okay to go into an abandoned building, whether day or night, without the landowner’s permission. End of story.
In many cases contacting the city or church that owns the cemetery or building and presenting your honest and objective intentions goes a long way toward garnering permission. You should also have a client contract that explains what each party’s legal and financial responsibilities are. Often having a clause that releases the building’s owner of responsibility due to injury puts their mind at ease. For an example of such a contract here is a download link to the very client contract that DFPS uses: DFPS Client Contract
Secondly, cemeteries by design are in urban areas close to well-traveled roads and residential homes. This can seriously pollute any evidence due to a large amount of X factors. Even abandoned cemeteries in secluded and neglected locations have environmental and noise pollution levels that are known and unknown at the time of investigation that could skew your results.
It may be a good idea to look at cemeteries as training grounds. Go there during the day with new members to get them acquainted with your group’s procedures and techniques. As we know, ghosts don’t just come out at night and you or they might actually catch something. While investigating a new cemetery during the day I actually captured a legitimate EVP.
This is also a great time to build connections between members and see which people work best with each other. Often the personalities of members will compliment another in the organization making for a solid duo for official investigations. This is also a perfect time to familiarize everyone with all the various tools at your disposal- and try out that new full-spectrum camera you just purchased. (Sorry, I was day dreaming again…) Every member should have a fully trained understanding of all the tools used during an investigation so that everyone can get their hands dirty and join in the hunt.
Every city and county around the world has local legends and folklore about famous residents, traumatic and dramatic events, and haunted buildings. Start with some of the more well-known locations and approach the owners or management in as professional a manner as possible. Dress and act like you would for a job interview with a high-end business firm. You’ll want to put your best foot forward. Not only will this help you come across as trustworthy but will gain you respect as well. Positive reviews and word of mouth are the best advertisement you can get, and best of all it’s free.
You’ll want to have certain safety items such as a first aid kit, plenty of flashlights and batteries, water bottles, 2-way radios, and name badges before you start any investigations. Keep these items at center command and readily accessible. Make sure procedures are in place should anyone get injured while investigating and have local emergency numbers handy. Also make sure you familiarize yourself with the address and specific location (major crossroads) of your area of interest so that in the unfortunate case that emergency personnel need to be called they can get to you as fast as possible.
Most items like water, first aid, and radios are common sense safety items but I’d also like to mention in detail the reasons for badges.
A seasoned paranormal research group will require all members to wear identification while investigating or representing the group in public- even when just doing research. Not only does this present a more professional image but it helps clients, law enforcement, and others know who is and is not part of the group. Remember that law enforcement has the right to request identification and trespassing on private property can lead to fines, imprisonment, or worse- I’ve known of ghost hunting groups getting shot at when trespassing in areas at night!
Set up your rules and procedures how you see fit for the specific needs and goals of your group’s activities. Just keep in mind that the more structured and professional you are in your design, the more professional you will come off when investigating and word of mouth can make or break your success.
Join me next month as I probe farther into investigations with a look at the wonderful world of research and documentation. Believe it or not good background research is critical to an accurate analysis.