Taking visual assessment during forensic work to the next level, with eye-level, “aerial” video

The penny dropped recently when I realized I can get eye-level “aerial” video during one of the most important tasks in a forensic investigation. I can then examine the data at my leisure and easily share it with others.

I’m talking about taking video during the visual examination at the site of a failure or accident. This examination is one of the first tasks we do during a forensic investigation, and it often points to the cause of a failure or accident: (Refs 1 to 4)

  • Get briefed by the client on the failure or accident
  • Read the existing documents
  • Walk and visually examine the site
  • Next …

We take video in the same way that a snow boarder catches ‘huge’ air off a jump and captures it with a camera mounted on his helmet – like my 13 year old grandson, Jonah, in Maine.

I did this a few days ago during a test with a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet and got the following data to analyse later and share with my ‘client’:

  • A video of exactly what I was looking at on the building site and the terrain beyond, and the ability to take off stills or frames split seconds apart
  • Dictated comment on what was important in the scene as recorded by the GoPro camera – for example, the cracks in a brick wall, erosion of a bridge abutment, the height of flood waters, flora discoloration at a contaminated site, stair construction at a slip and fall, etc.
  • Dictated surface measurements of important features in the scene – for example, the size and configuration of cracks in a wall, the width of a stair tread and height of the riser, etc.
  • The compass direction of where I was looking
  • My location along the walk
  • My height relative to where I started
  • My elevation above sea level

All this data from simply walking across the site and recording on video exactly what I was looking at – rather than in memory or notes in a field book; the old way. The data is displayed on the video screen courtesy of the GoPro app that is free with the camera.

During my GoPro test I could have visually examined the inside of the building and got a wealth of data there as well.

In a similar way, in a recent forensic investigation I mounted a GoPro camera on the dash of my car and drove along a road during a safety assessment. I simulated what a car driver would experience and captured it on video for study, analysis and sharing later.

Also on that occasion, I took aerial video from a GoPro camera mounted on a drone in addition to the eye-level ‘aerial’ video from the camera on the dash.


It was the success of the road safety assessment and simulation that got me thinking, “Why not eye-level, ground zero video of all failure and accident sites during the initial visual examination?”. That’s what I will do now. Then give a DVD of the video to all interested parties to see – rather than tell them what I remember based on notes in my field book.


  1. A Bundle of Blogs: On using visual site assessment in forensic investigation. Posted January 25, 2021
  2. Can you “calibrate” a forensic expert? Posted June 23, 2020
  3. What can you get from a virtual visual site assessment about the cause of a leaning retaining wall? Posted November 13, 2020
  4. “Technical” visual site assessments: Valuable, low cost, forensic engineering method. Posted September 4, 2012


The test described in this blog was organized by Robert Guertin, Millenium Film and Video Productions Ltd, Dartmouth, N.S., Canada.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada June 30, 2021 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

What happened to the “standard of care” – the degree of care that a reasonable person should exercise?

I was quite taken by the news report that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen Saturday, the 12th – see Appendix below. This was news about construction of the 15-story high-rise on Cleary Avenue at Richmond Road. It was sent to me by a friend in Ottawa, and commented on by another friend there, an engineer.


If you don’t mind me saying, I believe both the City and the Developer should have carried out engineering assessments of the impact of the high-rise on the area. Assessments by conscientious, well qualified engineers, not by a town planner for the City and whoever for the Developer.

Engineers who are experienced in foundation and geotechnical engineering, considering the 15-story height of the building and the underground parking garage. Tall buildings are a big weight on the ground and the construction of deep basements can undermine the ground nearby and anything buried in it.

This is what reasonable people would expect to see done – the average man in the street.

I looked at this area on high resolution Google Earth photographs. I can’t believe the City didn’t know the location of the four foot diameter, high pressure water main in such a well planned, well developed, up-market area. That pipe is bigger than the average buried infrastructure.

There’s a wealth of published information on built-up areas like this, as noted by my well experienced, construction engineering friend in Ottawa.

I was surprised that the judicial process didn’t think the City was under any obligation to provide accurate information to the Developer. Nor that it was necessary for the Developer to hire his own engineer.

I can’t believe the Developer didn’t understand the effect of a deep excavation on the ground beyond the parking garage – a distance in the order of the depth of the basement in some poor soils.

Or, for example, understand the effect of driving sheet piling to form the basement walls – there’s always some vibration to the ground during installation and some movement of the sheet piling later. There are other methods of constructing basement walls like this, and they all adversely affect the ground a little outside of the wall.

I think the Developer did understand so why didn’t he hire an engineer to check what the City was giving them? Just do it considering the importance.

Don’t mind me saying, but if experienced engineers were making the decisions here this issue would not have developed and I wouldn’t be asking these questions. But it reads like a Town Planner was making the decisions for the City and the Developer was doing it for the Developer – and not an engineer or a reasonable person in sight.


(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada June 22, 2021 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

The nightmare of a late commission, a tight deadline, and writing an expert’s report in plain-English

I was surprised at how difficult it is to write a forensic report in plain-English for non-technical readers. It’s easy in technical-English but not so much in plain-English. Translating a foreign language – from technical to plain – is difficult.

Writing in technical-English just sails along because you’re reporting a thorough and objective investigation using words suited to the task, and there’s lots of guidance (Refs 1, 2 and 3):

  1. You identify each task – and many of these are standard tasks carried out in all forensic engineering investigations, including those when you follow-the-evidence,
  2. Describe the task,
  3. State why you did it,
  4. The data you got,
  5. Your analysis of the data,
  6. The light it shed on the cause of the failure or accident,
  7. Note how the findings of each task support, or otherwise, the findings on cause of other tasks, and,
  8. Finally, how the findings support your evolving hypothesis as to cause.

The investigation goes deep inside as you do your work. And then comes out easily when you sit down to write your report.

It’s easy to write technically because you’ve lived your investigation for days or weeks, and you’re writing for kindred souls, other technical people, in words that roll off your tongue. But, putting it in jargon-free, plain-English is another story.

A tight deadline makes writing in plain-English even more difficult. Like, you were retained months or years after the failure or accident, and the deadline is just around the corner. Nor when you get mini-briefings from your client as you write. The mini-data is good but it’s got to be analysed, checked against other data and included in the report – in plain-English.

I had all three during a forensic investigation a few months ago – late commission, tight deadline and mini-briefings. I also had non-technical readers so I decided to write in plain-English. That’s four.

I was reviewing my report weeks later after submitting it in preparation for trial and saw the odd phrase and word that I might have restated. No change in opinion just that the wording might be tweaked. I thought afterwards that I must write for the technical reader in late/early situations like this. Never mind plain-English. Too risky.

I also thought that all forensic reports should be written then put aside for a while and read again later before submitting. That’s how I draft my blogs, over a period of a good many days, or sometimes several weeks. It’s worked for blogging for nine years. It should work for forensic reports.

Forensic reports in plain-English for non-technical readers is a challenge for the writer but good for the client when you’re retained early and the deadline is way down the road. It’s bad, a nightmare, when the deadline is just around the corner.

I will continue to write my reports in plain-English but I’m alert to the difficulty – learned during the last few forensic reports I’ve written. One of these was submitted as a preliminary report because the deadline was so tight. I’ll write in plain-English because I enjoy reporting to the interface between engineering and other professions. This is also the reason I enjoy blogging on the nature and methods of forensic engineering investigation.


  1. Mangraviti, Jr., James J., Babitsky. Steven and Donovan, Nadine Nasser. How to Write an Expert Witness Report, 2nd ed., 2014, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, MA (A massive 560 page, 1.25″ thick, 8.5″ x 11″ tomb)
  2. Zinsser, William K., On Writing Well, 7th ed., 2006, Harper Collins Publishers, New York (The best on the market for writing non-fiction. Note that it went to seven editions before the author died and sold 1.5 million copies)
  3. Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rule 55 Governing Experts, 2010, and similar rules and codes elsewhere in the country (Hard-nosed guidance to ensure the expert reports all reasoning, including that possibly leading to a different opinion)

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada June 11, 2021 ejorden@eastlink.ca)