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Forensic Mapping of Fire

and Explosion Scenes with

Total Stations
Brian Dunagan, CSP, CFEI, PMP
Why is Scene Documentation So Important?
Its an inherent part of the
incident investigation process
and is used in preparing the
Good scene documentation can
help provide irrefutable evidence
of root and contributing causes.
Establishes the precise location
and relationship of objects and
evidence at the scene.
Scene documentation is
discoverable and will be closely
scrutinized in the event of legal
How are Scenes Documented Now?
No mapping or diagrams
Low precision guesses
Feet (literally)
Tape measures
Measuring wheels
Laser distance meters
Total Station
Laser (LIDAR) Mapping
What is a Total Station?
A Total Station is an electronic
surveying instrument that has
an integrated computer and
can measure angles in the
horizontal and vertical planes,
utilizing a laser. This is
especially useful because
changes in elevation are very
difficult to both measure and
depict on a scene sketch.
The Total Station is capable of
recording evidence positions
in three dimensions, thus
simplifying an otherwise
complicated situation.
The Other Equipment
Data Collector
Tape Measure
Reconstruction Software
or CAD
When is Precision Mapping a Great Idea?
Large or complex scenes
Time critical (weather,
considerations, etc)
Measurements are not
readily attainable by
normal means (vertical
distances, over water, etc)
Irregular shapes or
patterns (spills, burn
patterns, skid marks)
Litigation or other legal
proceedings are likely as a
result of the accident
How Would You Diagram or Sketch This Scene?
Benefits of a Total Station?
Accurate to within
approximately over a
1 mile distance.
Very rapid data
Collects an electronic
record of your scene
documentation efforts.
The data collected can
be used directly by CAD
and animation software.
Gold standard for traffic
accident investigation
and major loss
Disadvantages of a Total Station?
Overkill for most small or
simple incident scenes.
More expensive than tape
measures and similar
Successful mapping with
the equipment requires
initial and continuing
The equipment is water
resistant, not water proof.
Mapping in severe
weather can be
challenging if not
Example of Scene Diagram
Example of a Basic Animation
Example of an Advanced Animation
Points to Remember
Dont assume that
someone else properly
documented the incident
scene (federal, state, or
local governmental
agencies, insurance
company, subcontractor
companies, etc.)
Garbage in, garbage out
the data collected at the
scene is perishable and
precision documentation
can be critical to a
successful and defensible