Skipping the Client Interview
Let’s face it — some people call on paranormal investigators for reasons other than help. They may desire some kind of special attention or may even be out for a prank at your expense. Find out exactly what kind of events the client believes he is experiencing and get the when/where/who of every occurrence you can. Train yourself to spot inconsistencies in these recounts and make note of any strange behavior of the client (after the interview if you’re face-to-face, please!) If the interview reveals clues that the call for help may not be genuine, you have the right to refuse an investigation on whatever grounds you decide. On the other hand, you may discover during the initial interview that a situation is physically dangerous to those in the environment or involves children, prompting you to schedule an investigation immediately.
Thorough client interviews avoid wasted time — for your team in the event a call is bogus, and for distraught homeowners who are living in fear.
All good investigators know that the foundation of a thorough site study begins with background research. Take the time to track down the history of the location you’re planning to study. What sorts of tragic events may have taken place there? Has paranormal activity been ongoing at the site? If you have the permission of the homeowner, contact former occupants and find out if they’ve witnessed anything in the home they couldn’t explain. If you will be investigating a business location, get permission from the owner or manager to interview current or past employees.
Arm yourself with knowledge of a location’s history and you’ll spare yourself the embarrassment of looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong places.
Not Knowing Your Equipment
Walking into an investigation with gear you can’t operate easily and quickly is a fast route to failure. Fumbling to find the record button on your DVR in the dark or not know exactly what all the aperture presets on your camera are used for could mean missing something that is, well, phenomenal.
Know your equipment inside and out before using it on an investigation. Read the manuals and practice using these devices in all kinds of light and environmental conditions. Learn to change batteries in the dark.
Inviting Too Many (or Not Enough) Investigators
Have you ever been on an investigation where there was hardly room to move because of all the other hopeful ghost-hunters present? If so, I’m willing to bet all the data you collected from that outing was junk — filled with chit-chat, foot shuffling, and other contaminants. The flipside is performing an investigation at a huge property with only a few able bodies to do the work. Both scenarios are a drain on your valuable time and, if you’re like me, your patience.
A good rule of thumb is to plan for one investigator for every 200 square feet of a structure. Here’s where doing your homework pays off. Know the site well before inviting participants to the investigation and you’ll never be too crowded or overworked.
Night Vision Saboteurs
We’ve all caused it at some time or another, whether we realized it or not — flash burn. This inconvenient optical response to bright lights in a dark environment can wreak havoc on a nighttime investigation. Make a conscious attempt, and instill it in your teammates, to avoid shining flashlights into the faces of others or snapping flash photos in the direction of other investigators. If you must take a photo with others present, give a warning signal for them to momentarily close their eyes by simply saying, “Flash!”
Optical glare recovery can take up to three minutes. Don’t cheat a fellow investigator of his opportunity to witness paranormal phenomena by pointing a head lamp in his face or by careless use of flash photography.
You’ve been reviewing audio data for hours and you finally discover what you were hoping for — the coveted EVP. With excitement boiling over, you rush to share the find with your team only to have your mood ruined by someone announcing, “Oh, that was Bob asking me about what I had for dinner!” Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s no fun. How can you avoid this embarrassment? Lay down an investigation rule — NO WHISPERING.
Encourage every investigator to speak at normal conversational volume, no matter what the situation. If you really want to cover your bases when it comes to data review time, make a recorded sample of everyone on the team saying their name and telling you where they will be investigating.
Accidents Waiting to Happen
I know, they’re accidents and you can’t exactly plan for them. You can, however, be certain you have an emergency protocol in place for physical injuries, lost investigators, property damage, and the like. Be sure every member of your team understands the protocol before setting out on an investigation.
The best ways to head off accidents is to know the terrain, be familiar with the structure, dress in appropriate clothing and shoes, and make it the mission of each investigator to point out unsafe behavior when they see it. Don’t be shy — you could be saving someone hundreds of dollars in medical expenses by speaking up. Be sure at least one investigator has access to a cell phone with reliable coverage in the event of an emergency.
Failure to Communicate
Knowing where your teammates are at all times can mean the difference between the paranormal find of a lifetime and data that’s so contaminated it has to be thrown out. If your video camera catches a mysterious shadow in the hallway, you may focus your attention there for the remainder of the investigation only to later discover is was a teammate changing rooms.
If you are participating in an active investigation, use a set of family radios or walkies to keep track of who is going where and when. This additional step will help ensure your data is genuine and all investigators are safe. You never know, your radios may even pick up on paranormal interference.
Allowing Excitement to Turn to Panic
Psychologists all agree — fear is contagious. Every investigator should be put through many rounds of hypothetical situations before setting foot in the field. What would you do if you heard a disembodied voice right beside you? How would you react if you saw an apparition? Really think it through and have a plan ready in case things are more “active” than you anticipate.
If you sense a teammate is becoming overwhelmed, take him outside or away from the cause of his fear until he has a chance to calm down. In most cases, a short time-out can cut the fuse from a volatile situation. If the panicked investigator is inconsolable, he or she should be removed from the site to avoid influencing the rest of the team.
Not Following Through on Follow-Up
Don’t forget why you are investigating — to help someone. Whether your client wants simply some validation of his sanity or he feels his safety is in jeopardy, you make it your duty when you agree to the investigation to follow up and share your team’s conclusion.
Running around with cameras and flashlights looking for spirits is great fun, I agree, but providing answers to those who come to you for help is essential in building your credibility as a paranormal investigator.