Investigation Procedures: Getting Your Hands Dirty (Part 3 of 5)
Perhaps it’s apropos that we’re on to the actual investigation portion and it’s October- ghosts, goblins, Charlie Brown, and all that jazz. But, I digress…
Only after some level of background research will you ready to enter the location and explore. Even still, prior to setting up a mutually agreeable investigation date with the client, put some controls in place for the experiment.
For instance, having the client communicate to their neighbors that there will be strangers parking out front and tiptoeing in the dark with flashlights in their home at an odd hour would be a good idea; police showing up with lights and sirens blaring would definitely slow down an investigation. Your client should find a sitter for any pets because you wouldn’t want the family cat being responsible for that odd shadow in the basement, nor would you want him jumping out of a closet and giving a team member a heart attack no matter how entertaining that would be at the time (no, I am not speaking from experience on that one). If at all possible the residents should have a place to stay for the night as well, to not get in the way. Keeping contact with them at intervals during the night and calling them while wrapping up would be preferable to them contaminating evidence with noises or lights to “prove” their claims, whether done purposefully or through restlessness while they wait out the investigation. The less disruption in the home, the better.
The exploration should be fun but your ghost hunt should be a combination of intelligent analytical skills, respectful scientific approach, an open mind, and respect for the people and possessions in the location- living or dead.
It’s embarrassing to wander about not knowing what to do next so set up a guideline for the investigation including team assignments, what equipment to use, and areas to concentrate on. Have a central command center with one or two people monitoring computers and DVRs, batteries, miscellaneous equipment, and coordinating with everyone providing time, weather, and investigation updates. Establish a logical time table including session time limits and set-up/tear-down times. Remember that you are coming into someone’s home or business. Hours of operation and the personal lives of residents are a factor in the length and time of any investigation; a full night is preferable but rarely feasible. Other factors include how large of an area to cover divided by the number of investigators on hand. Have efficient and detailed investigation goals tailored to the case at hand; expertise is the key to success.
Check local news, weather websites, and the Ghost Weather Station, if you downloaded it, on the day of an investigation to determine any environmental aspects which could enhance or deter your investigation. Check this information again just prior to lights out and at intervals throughout to monitor any changes and mark the time of each change so that they can be compared with the other results later.
Make sure all equipment is in proper working order, fully powered, and calibrated prior to arrival at the investigation site. You’ll want to tape down or conceal equipment wiring throughout the house and perform an extensive tour of the home’s geography for both logistical and safety reasons. Additional insurance in case of accidental damage by you or your team should also be considered.
Of particular consideration while hunting in closed quarters would be noise control of the team. Teammates should wear soft-soled shoes rather than heavy boots or shoes that click or squeak, causing unnecessary noise pollution. Accessories such as jewelry should be removed or tucked away if they have a tendency to produce a jingle. Check clothing before going through the home for audible friction as some fabrics when rubbed together can cause a disruption. No baseball caps, brimmed hats, or reflective buttons should be worn either due to the visual obstruction they may cause. Keep in mind- the less reflective, the better. Make sure all of your team members have had sufficient food, water, and rest prior to investigating. Low blood sugar, dehydration or exhaustion can lead to the failure of a ghost hunt. It goes without saying that any member that arrives at the location intoxicated or under the influence of drugs should be escorted home. You could keep a water bottle handy; otherwise there should be no eating or drinking while investigating. You will also want to refrain from using the bathroom as well. All the extra noise from the plumbing could taint an otherwise perfect EVP being captured elsewhere. Do your business before arriving to the site. Do not allow smoking during investigations, regardless if the home owner is a smoker or not, as it can be disruptive in various ways such as coughing, and the clouds can appear as mist giving false positives to photographs or other anomalous readings in visual equipment. Suppose reported activity is a lady of the house emanating a floral perfume scent. How can this be detected if someone is smoking in the room or has been near the area recently?
Do a thorough walkthrough of the location to obtain baseline readings with all your equipment to determine normal energy levels as well as to naturally explain any of the occurrences before going lights out. Best handheld cb radio is used for emergency communications. Once lights are out you will look at anything as being possibly paranormal more so then when in the light. For one thing your autonomic nervous system kicks in and the darkness makes you revert to fight-or-flight mode. You are more calm and unbiased when in the light. That bent metal plate or loose water pipe is more apt to be seen now then in total darkness when all you can hear is the bang it makes as it moves.
Take baseline readings with a compass, EMF meter, K2 meter, geomagnetometer, ion detector, or Geiger counter and if any spikes occur see if they can be traced to natural causes such as common household appliances, so while investigating you’ll know where these are located and can be ruled out. If during the walkthrough all is quiet and readings teeter between 0 and 1 but during the investigation they bury the needle you may be on to something. Also check yourself at this time to see where they register. Remember you are carrying any combination of watch, cell phone, radio, camera, meters, video equipment, and various metals or gems which can amplify the EMF. You yourself are a walking field. Perhaps all that equipment is being detected in the next room by another team as an anomalous reading.
Use the equipment at your disposal together or in infinite combinations throughout an investigation. While you track a suspected EMF spike, also run an EVP session asking questions and making demands for specific reactions to determine intelligence. Have your teammate take pictures as you follow the readings around the room. If separate tools record results within the same time index they will support the claim that paranormal activity exists.
Whatever equipment you are using, make sure you are using it correctly. All man-made equipment emits an alternating electrical current. This is what the EMF detects. Remember that a single-axis meter must be turned and tilted along all three dimensional axes to gain a true reading. Also determine how your particular meter measures activity and analyze the results accordingly. Some meters measure the amplitude or strength of the field while others detect changes over periods of time.
So if you happen to register a response that is outside the baseline you took prior, stop moving. First see if it remains stationary or if the point of activity moves around in a random or seemingly intelligent manner. Try to determine if there is a pattern to the movement that might have a natural explanation, or if the signal grows stronger or leads you to a viable cause. Even though lights are out there is still power running through the building powering everyday items from alarm clocks to refrigerators. ALL of these items will generate a response on the meter. If the high readings can be traced to these items then there is a fault in the appliance that is the cause and not a ghost playing with you.
The K-II meter is a great tool to use in conjunction with EVP sessions because of the question-and-response means of its use. Place the meter on a stationary surface and invite spirits to interact by manipulating the LEDs in a particular manner. You might first notice all lights activate indicating something in its proximity. Set up rules for 2-way communication such as flash once for yes, twice for no, and ask questions accordingly. Having a video camera focused on the meter is invaluable so that a record of the experience can be kept without wasting time going back and forth with writing or voice-recording the responses.
Go with your instincts, but if you’ve captured something try to debunk it by recreating it. Have someone stand in the same position to see if it was just a reflection or light effect. Often it’s just our imagination impacting our perception of events.
The use of infrared motion detectors can best be used in conjunction with stationary video cameras. If you have a camera set to continuously monitor a particular room or area, set up the motion sensor in such a way as to alert the group to the presence of activity or to possible contamination of the scene by someone or something. If there is paranormal activity present on the footage but the sensors have clearly not been tripped and you can disprove the interaction of a person or animal to the scene you stand a better chance of having valid paranormal evidence. Again, this is why time-stamping every reading and an accurate account of all people in the location is so important to a valid claim.
If the presence of a hot or cold spot is felt, pull out your thermal equipment and begin taking readings. Remember that an IR thermometer can only read something with a visible surface and NOT the ambient temperature of the room. Use the IR thermometer to monitor the drop or rise in degrees or trace the cold spot to a draft or some other logical and natural explanation. For more accurate ambient temperature readings use a thermocouple-based temperature measurement device which can take rapid readings that are essential when dealing with an actual paranormally-induced cold spot.
The Thermal Imaging Scanner can put into visual form what the IR device detects. This not only measures the temperature but shows the varied temperatures of all objects in its aperture. If a teammate is sitting on a couch and the scanner starts reading a heat rise in the seat next to them without some kind of natural explanation you may have evidence of a spirit attempting to manifest itself.
You’re now several hours into the investigation and all teams have had sufficient time to explore each area of interest using all the tools at your disposal. It’s now time to wrap it up and turn the lights back on. Gather all the teams at command central for a quick debriefing and begin the process of gathering all your equipment. Take special care to gather everything in a logical and efficient manner- don’t just start pulling up wires at random and throwing them all in a box. Pull all memory cards out of cameras and place them in special containers along with digital recorders (since it is not possible to backup these items on scene) and correctly save and store all recordings and readings captured on computers and DVR systems. Simply pulling the plug before saving all your data could prove disastrous when you go to analyze it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Night wasted. End of Story.
Collect any twist, zip ties, or cords used to secure equipment. Make sure that if you taped anything down you leave no residue from the tape and everything in the location is in the same condition and place it was when you first arrived.
After a good rest begins the lengthy process of analyzing the data collected. Don’t jump to analysis right away; get some sleep and come back to it the next day refreshed but with the night still clear in your memory. Join me next month when I discuss the analysis phase and all the tips and tricks associated with it. Happy Hunting and Happy Halloween/Samhain.