“Am I a paranormal investigator or a paranormal spectator?”

In the last few weeks I have had the chance to engage with a few paranormal teams about ‘all things paranormal’. Of the many things discussed, something that struck me as very interesting was how many teams spend little to no time reviewing or analysing the data they have collected.

Investigation by its very definition is the collection and organisation of evidence in order to uncover the truth. So if someone is truly going to call themselves a paranormal investigator surely that means one needs to investigate and not just spectate?

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As an investigator I had to get to the bottom of this, so had to ask the question – why? What are the barriers people are facing that stops them from analysing and reviewing their data? Why purchase all of this expensive equipment, spend hours setting it up and pulling it down, just to put it away after the investigation and leave potential evidence sitting untouched in a hard drive, never to be looked at or listened to.

Some of the reasons I was given were:

Reason #1: “I just don’t have time to review our evidence.”

Reason #2: “There is just too much to go through.”

Reason #3: “I can’t find the right programmes to help me analyse the data.”

Reason #4: “The guy with the data hasn’t shared it.”

Reason #5: “I always get confused as to where things happened or when.”

Reason #6: “I don’t really know what I am doing.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you or apply to your team? So how do we get around it? 

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There are things that can be done before, during and after the investigation that can help. A lot of these points are basics but maybe there is something that your time might not have thought about.

1. Ensure your device times are synchronised prior to the investigation. Do a time ‘hack’ at the beginning of your investigation. Ensure the date/time overlays are recorded. When you start a recording on any device, commence with the recorder ‘on’ time, the name of the device, the location and any other important information. For example “Recorder on at 21:25hrs, Zoom H5, A6, static audio recorder, nurses station” You can even transmit that on the radio for your scribe to note on the log as well (see next point). When it comes to doing your evidence review you will hopefully have a comprehensive log and you will know exactly what files you are reviewing because it will be annotated at the beginning and end of each file. You will also be able to easily pinpoint particular times on a file that does not have metadata annotated on it. 

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2. Use logs. If you can use event logs to note down times and events this can make life a bit easier in the evidence review phase. It can be distracting having to lug a folder and pen around then have to stop what you are doing to write things down. A good way to get around this is to have somebody in an operations (OPS) area on the radio who can scribe for you. This is where a grid overlay map comes in handy as well. It can be as simple as saying “OPS; Stevie. Whistle heard 30 seconds ago in A6.” The scribe can record this on the log and on the map for you. We try and make sure we have hand-held radio receivers positioned throughout the investigation area near our recorders/cameras. This means that when you are doing evidence review you will hear that particular transmission as well and it can be a cue to hone in on that time across other devices.

3. Have an analysis plan. Who is going to do what and by when. Set tasks and timelines. Keep each other accountable and make sure that you have allocated everyone in the team a part in the review and analysis effort. This can be done at the end of an investigation as part of the debrief instead of just loading the car, high-fiving each other and racing off. Debriefs are very important parts of an investigation and often overlooked. 

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4. Utilise your team’s strengths. Some people are good with audio, some are good with video and imagery. The important thing is that everyone plays a role and that no one person is loaded up to the point where it becomes a chore. If somebody can’t contribute to the analysis effort then they should be carrying a load elsewhere. If people are just passengers (or spectators) in your team – that is, those who turn up for the ‘fun’ stuff and don’t contribute – the rest are more likely to get burnt out and disillusioned.  

5. Learn to multitask. For me when it comes to reviewing audio I often have it playing in my headset when I am going about my work. I sometimes listen to recordings on the drive to work or on the way home. I also do review just before I go to bed, these strategies will not suit everyone but they work for me. Some people find it easier to do 20 minutes a night of analysis where others might prefer to block out a couple of hours on a weekend to go do their review at the library. Find something that works around your domestic and work commitments and get into a rhythm. 

6. Consider having evidence review meetings. Think about having regular evidence review meetings as part of your team’s activity calendar. These are great ways to introduce, induct and train new team members, build skills, enhance teamwork, build morale, help with peer review of potential evidence and keep things organised.

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7. Make the data accessible. Make sure the data is made available for your team to analyse asap after the investigation. If the data is not shared quickly the ‘recency’ of the investigation can get lost in the anticipation and excitement of the next investigation. Find a way that works for you, whether copies are made on USB at the end of the investigation or shared via Dropbox, cloud storage or similar. 

8. Use a standard file naming convention for your files. This is of the utmost importance. Things get very confusing if they aren’t labelled correctly. Ensure you keep the original/source file separate from your product (analysed, enhanced and trimmed) files. Ensure these file names are recorded on your final report and reference them properly. 

9. Network and educate yourself and your teams. Link in with other teams to see what they are doing for their evidence review techniques, technologies and software programs. There is a plethora of things available to use and it can be confusing as to what will be the best for your needs. You might even be able to invite somebody to your evidence review nights who is an expert in audio, video or still photography (not just paranormal investigators) who can help train you and your team in various programs or analysis techniques. 

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Clearly this is just scratching the surface as far as techniques and tips are concerned. In the coming months I am looking forward to exploring this more and liaising with other teams to see how they go about their business. If you have any tips or techniques you would like to share please let me know!

Any questions, comments or suggestions please contact me (Stevie) at sageinvestigationsau@gmail.com

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