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ASSAP History: 'Equipment'
by Val Hope

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We couldn’t take a laboratory into the field, even if we had one. However, miniaturization of electronic devices means that more instruments can now be used on active cases. However, there is still an important role to be played in research and investigations by human senses, native intelligence and a notepad.

ASSAP's infra-red video camera in Chislehurst CavesIn an attempt to provide more support to small groups or individuals without access to potentially expensive electronic gadgetry, an executive member is regularly appointed to look after equipment. Equipment Officer Caroline Searley put together a list of useful equipment for investigations in ASSAP News 94 and set out the pitfalls of using EMF meters. We also have a list of what ASSAP itself owns. For a small fee a variety of devices can be borrowed, provided they can be posted safely. Not everything can be, and our first infrared camera, bought in 1984 and a veteran of the Chislehurst Caves vigil (left), went the way of all metal some years ago after a particularly hazardous journey. Some equipment is best passed on hand to hand. That means it won't always be immediately available for your next investigation and some convoluted routes may need to be worked out in order to get it to you.

Some equipment can occasionally be borrowed from sources other than ASSAP. Early hypnosis sessions under the Merlin Matrix had the use of a device called the Mind Mirror to reveal brainwave activity, while the Chislehurst Caves investigation made use of borrowed hygrometry equipment. For a while it looked as if we would get our hands on equipment to test metal bending, through cooperation with Birkbeck College in London, but they couldn't complete the project due to financial difficulties.

Not all equipment is expensive, and you can also make your own: in ASSAP News 77 professional photographer Simon Earwicker described the construction of a camera arrangement that could simultaneously take photos of an anomalous object from two angles so as to position it more accurately in the 3-D world. Second-hand is also an option, as long as the gear works. Michael Lewis picked up a ‘Computemp’, a particularly nifty electronic thermometer, at a car boot sale. And, finally, there are freebies. Two night-vision devices were donated to ASSAP in 1996 by Moonlight Night-Vision Equipment, an electronics company local to Chris and Phil Walton in south-east London. In exchange for some publicity, such as mentioning the company name during magazine interviews, we gained valuable and useful instruments. Night-vision equipment proved its worth one night at a sponsored vigil being held at Charlton House. ASSAP had been asked along to help out. When a noise was heard coming from one of the huge fireplaces, Phil was able to spot someone climbing around in the chimney!

Various attempts have been made over the years to bring together technical people to work on equipment for site investigations and research. One incarnation of the team was involved in putting together a bank of equipment for Project Minotaur in Chislehurst Caves. A call for members interested in equipment to get together and form an Equipment Group was published in ASSAP News 74 in 2000. Members with the appropriate knowledge have come and gone. In ASSAP News 96 then Technical Officer Dr Paul Lee asked members with an interest in environmental monitoring to come forward to help design infrasound, electromagnetic and other detectors. The response was underwhelming.

An early project run by Jason Braithwaite at Muncaster Castle in northern England involved ‘blanket monitoring’, with instruments taking measurements of multiple factors with minimum human interference. At Easter 1996 Jason and his 'Argonauts' descended on the castle for several chilly nights. It had to be night-time because of access problems, but each night was spent with the lights on. This meant observation of fellow investigators was unambiguous and reduced any interference from ‘spookiness’. The array of instruments tested a number of theories about what was causing the reports of hauntings.

MADS

Recent years have seen Jason Braithwaite develop ideas for testing a site for magnetic disturbances. Jason met up with the Executive and a sponsor in summer 2003 to discuss what the envisaged equipment could do. ASSAP agreed to sponsor MADS to the tune of two laptops, while the other sponsor generously funded the sensors, acquired from a supplier in the USA. With the assistance of physicist and IT expert Maurice Townsend, the package of laptops, sensors and software to record results was set up and trialed at Muncaster Castle in the Lake District. Jason’s paranormal conference in Muncaster in March 2004 was an early opportunity to see the kit in action and hear about how electromagnetic fields affect the brain.

The idea wasn't just plucked out of the air - if you want to read about the technical details and background, there's a whole MADS website out there, designed by Maurice Townsend. The equipment making up MADS has been covered in Anomaly and ASSAP News on several occasions, while initial results have been published in peer-reviewed journals. As everyone involved in the project is doing the work on a voluntary basis, time available for fieldwork and refinement of the system is necessarily limited. There are understandable frustrations among ASSAP members keen to get their hands on the kit, but the plan was for courses to train people in using MADS once it had completed its field testing.
© Valerie Hope 2007