Total Station Surveying Technology for Forensic Mapping

Total Station Surveying Technology for Forensic Mapping of Fire and Explosion Incident Scenes

Brian C. Dunagan, CSP, CFEI, CFII
IFO Group, Inc. – Incident Free Operations, Inc., USA
Christopher F. Schemel, Ph.D.
IFO Group, Inc. – Delta Q Consultants, Inc., USA

Total stations (electronic surveying equipment) are frequently used in traffic accident investigations to collect data for reconstruction specialists. For more than 20 years these devices have dramatically reduced the time and labor required to document and map vehicle accident scenes. The data collected by a total station can be easily imported into modeling and sophisticated mapping software. This technology can be deployed in other forensic applications and can be readily used to assist investigators in systematically and accurately mapping fire and explosion incident scenes. This paper summarizes the role a total station plays in forensic mapping. First, an overview of forensic mapping using total stations and associated equipment such as prisms and data collectors is presented. Second, the constraints and the legal considerations of the technology are discussed. Third, a case study using forensic mapping of an explosion scene is presented. Finally, it will be demonstrated that the use of these techniques can assist the savvy investigator in building a compelling case narrative that builds on and complements other evidence collected while satisfying the ever increasing standards for reliable and accurate documentation of scenes.

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