Thursday, February 24, 2011

Outdoor Investigations

Since warmer weather is (hopefully) upon us, I thought I'd post an article from the archives concerning outdoor investigations!  I originally posted this on the TAPS 18+ Message Board as a response to another member's query--it has been polished up a tad, but if you're wondering why it reads a little more informally, that's why.  Please let me know what you think, and if you have anything to add.

Outdoor locations, such as parks, cemeteries, etc., can be great places for newer investigators to practice their skills and for the testing of new equipment.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of having a controlled setting, outdoor locations have additional problems to overcome.   Here's a brief run-down of some of the issues that commonly arise with outdoor investigations...and some tips on how to overcome them and get the most out of your investigation!

*Obtain permission to be there:
Acquiring proper permission for an outdoor location is often overlooked, but is one of the most important steps. While a place may be void of "No Trespassing" signs, it is still owned by SOMEONE, usually in the case of an historical area or cemetery, the city or county. All efforts must be taken to establish proper ownership and obtaining permission to be there, especially at night when most public locations are technically "closed" (WV Code generally states that public cemeteries close at dark, for example). Should no official owner be found, its always a good idea to inform any neighbors in the area and/or local law enforcement of your presence, to distinguish yourself from vandals.  This has an added benefit in that once in awhile, you'll get some valuable information regarding the history and the folklore of the area from these sources. Lastly, if you ARE stopped and asked to leave, do so immediately without fuss. Also bring a photo ID, just in case.

*Do a thorough daylight walk-through in order to get a feel for the layout, and observe any potential hazards. Make a map of the area, pointing out any dangers and sites of interest. If you will be investigating the area in the dark, glow sticks are awesome for marking off potentially dangerous areas.  Take note of anything else that may cause false positives later in the investigation, such as proximity to neighbors, train tracks, running water, etc.

*Understand the types of wildlife in your area of investigation and the noises and sights associated with them. Certain big cats, and even rabbits emit a scream that sounds like a human woman screaming...and many animals' eyes will glow either green or red. Foxfire, swamp gas, etc. are also things to take into consideration.

* If possible, avoid investigating if there is any precipitation, or if it is overly humid. Both conditions can cause false positives in photographs. Also, be mindful that cold temperatures also produce potential false positives. If you DO investigate in cold weather, hold your breath for a few seconds before taking pictures, and shoot away from anyone else present. Similar to breath, cigarette smoke will also cause false positives, so do not smoke at the investigation site.  Instead, designate a break area away from the investigation area.

*Experiment with how sound carries in the location. Split up into groups and vary your distances apart...talking normally, loudly, coughing, giggling, see what it sounds like so that you don't pick up someone several hundred yards away and think its an EVP. Windy and hilly areas can have some weird accoustics and carry sound in odd ways.  Most investigators add "voice tags" as well as written notes during recording sessions whenever a naturally ocurring background noise is observed.  There will be LOTS of background noises outside, so its important to identify those to the best of your ability if you choose to implement audio in your investigation. 

*Take notice of any street lights and street signs (street signs will give off a glow in photos), or anything else that may give off a reflection or glow. Take notice of the postion and phase of the moon as the night progresses and clouds roll by, it could cause odd light anomalies.  Take plenty of test shots so that you have a basis for comparison.   Also, try to park in a fashion where you're unlikely to get reflections from the back lights of the vehicles...and carpool as much as possible, as parking in some places is limited.

*Experiment with how traffic sounds and headlights from cars effect the investigation. Any odd shadows or lights need to looked at extremely carefully.

*Dress sensibly and seasonably. Outdoor locations are often muddy, woody, and full of bugs. Wear comfortable shoes that you don't mind getting dirty and that you can hike in...and dress appropriately for the weather. Light layers are practical and can be adjusted for changing temperatures.  I personally recommend keeping an extra set of shoes in the car, just in case!  Bug spray is also a must-have for outdoor locations.  If you'll be in a wooded or brushy area, consider wearing long pants and a long sleeve top for added protection against scrapes and bug bites.

*Travel light--you may need to leave the area in a hurry. Bring the basics, and consider a headlamp over a traditional less thing to carry.  Lots of stores, including Walmart,  have fishing vests that have many pockets for organization, and can make carrying multiple items much easier.

*And on the subject of lights are great for preserving night vision and cutting down on your light pollution. However, they often don't provide ample light for traipsing around outside at night. Consider having a brighter light handy for moving around. Many headlights have both red light, and normal led functions.

*Keep safety a TOP priority. If at any reason the investigation becomes dangerous, leave immediately. (Examples: Another person is observed in the location, lightning is noticed, etc) with any investigation, refrain from horseplay and take a first aid kit along.  A first-aid kit containing a basic snake-bite kit is also a good option.

*Be respectful. Leave the property in the same or in better shape as when you found it. Make sure all trash is picked up, and nothing is disturbed.

*If you DO observe any type of vandalism or property damage, document it, and notify the owners at their and your earliest convenience so that you don't get blamed for it.

*And lastly, just be careful and practice common sense. Don't let anyone wander off alone...and make sure you have walkie talkies, or cell phones, so that the groups can keep in contact with each other. Make sure someone outside the group knows where you'll be, and when you're expected back.  NEVER go alone on an investigation, especially a night-time investigation.

As far as equipment tips....

Make sure you have accurate weather detecting equipment, and get up to date, accurate readings on line for wind speed and direction, moon phase...all that good stuff, and document it. I use a free program called Ghost Weather that gives all that, plus tracks geomagnetic and solar flare info.

Unless you want to run a power cord to your equipment from your car through a converter or some other means (which is usually impractical), make sure you've got plenty of charged up and ready to go batteries for all of your equipment.  Bring more batteries than you think you'll need--at least 2 sets minimum for every piece of equipment you bring.

Also, since you'll probably want to do this when its dark...easier to see an entity if its emitting its own light...make sure whatever video equipment you have  is equipped to work well in the dark.  For the first go around, I would imagine handheld devices would be more practical than setting up stationary cameras. IR boosters for most camcorders are relatively inexpensive and there are plenty of affordable options in regards to both video and still photography night shot capability.  Experiment with your equipment's capabilities, and find out what works best.

If you have nightvision goggles, definitely implement them!  And if you have a hand held GPSr, it may be handy to have around for several reasons.  You can waymark areas where specific activity is witnessed, so you know exactly where to go back to if no other markers exist, and if you venture out away from your vehicle, you can easily find your way back. 

And don't rush this...plan an excursion where your conditions allow for optimal results and if feasible, go back several times under different different seasons, weather, see if there is any differences.

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