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)   

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