Site Check with the Client
Once the decision has been made to start the investigation, the case manager should meet with the client and take an exploratory walk-through of the site. This is a good time to set up the option to return after the investigation if it is necessary; follow-ups are often needed. If the client has any special requests or has recent activity to report, this is her chance to share the information.
This is also an opportunity for the investigator to take baseline readings with monitoring equipment. Ideally, this meeting should be done a bit in advance of the investigation so that the information can be coordinated and possibly researched more deeply. It isn't always possible to do a walk-through before the day of the investigation, especially if the site is far away or time is tight.
If the client is able to arrange it, walk through the investigation site in daylight, when anything that may be a physical hazard can be identified. Older and abandoned buildings are interesting to investigate and often have unexplained phenomena associated with them, but they can have many lurking hazards as well.
Ask plenty of questions. You are in the business of seeking answers, so practice asking questions without being too intrusive. Ask about common hazards, including:
Structurally unsound areas — weak floors, uneven floors with loose boards, unsafe steps or balconies, etc.
Clutter and debris
Areas or rooms where hazardous chemicals are stored
Rooms under construction where nails or sharp-edged tools can be found
Rooms containing asbestos insulation or other dangerous materials
Other impediments to an investigation could be:
Antiques and collectibles that cannot be touched or moved
Areas with high EMF readings
Areas to which the client refuses access
It's a good idea for paranormal investigators to carry their cameras with them at all times; you never know when a spooky shot may present itself.
Photo copyright Melissa Martin Ellis, 2008.
All pertinent information about the building or site should be noted. Determine the age of the site. The current owner may not know, but a records search will uncover the site's age and ownership history. Never take a building's appearance as a sure indicator of its age; it could have been remodeled and may look far younger than it is, or it could be cleverly designed to look like an old structure, although it was built only a few years before.
New buildings do seem to have less ghostly activity than old ones, so knowing the age may help you gauge whether the reports you are hearing are credible. Always check at the local city or town hall for ownership records and building permits to indicate the age of the site.
If you have been told the history of the site, do your own independent verification of the facts. Misinformation and faulty memories cloud the data quite often, so double check everything you can. You can check these records online and do a bit of genealogy research, at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Links to other genealogy sites can be found at Cyndi's List.
Jeff Barnes is a ghost hunter in Indiana. In one of his podcasts, he talks about putting together an environmental worksheet for your investigation. This worksheet lists conditions in the home that might adversely impact the client's home and health and even the case. He recommends looking for wiring issues, mold, air quality, and leaks.
None of these problems are unique to paranormal investigation procedures, but knowing about them may help you document circumstances that might support or debunk the perception of paranormal activity at an investigation site. Perhaps the reason your client is seeing things might be explained by something as simple as toxic paint fumes poisoning the air.
Structural issues such as cracks in the floors or walls should also be noted, as should basements with bare earth floors, which might be contaminated with industrial waste. Faulty electrical wiring can cause high EMF readings, which in turn can cause paranoia in sensitive people. Mold and plumbing problems like malfunctioning hidden drains can contribute to the accumulation of sewer gas, which can definitely affect the client's behavior.
Getting Fully Briefed
If anything looks as if it is going to cause a problem for the team, make a note of it and/or take a picture of it. This way the team can be fully briefed about any potentially dangerous areas or situations before they get to the site. They should also be alerted if a spot will be virtually impossible to investigate due to high EMF readings or other natural barriers or obstacles.
The walk-through before the investigation is another opportunity to get important information from the client. The client should point out areas of particular concern, or areas where something unusual has been seen, heard, or smelled. Sometimes people remember facts or concerns they forgot to mention initially, and walking around the property jogs their memory.