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Launched Aug 26 1996.



By Hughes Chicoine CFEI, Jan. 2000

Author's submission note:

The following text was extracted from a body written in French and released in response to : Innovative Technology for Fire Investigations , by John R. Saams and Ludwig Benner, Jr., presented at the Society Of Fire Protection Engineers SFPE Fall Engineering seminars, Miami, FL, November 14, 1990, Ʈ 1990 by Events Analysis, Inc. Saams and Benner contend that well conducted fire investigations yield 'new knowledge'.

(The programming mentioned below refers to MES (Multilinear Events Sequencing), especially Energy Trace and Barrier Analysis, as it hosts fire phenomena well. )

In addition to being a set of technical activities, investigation is a process, an acquisition and rendition process (to learn and to inform). Acquiring the data and the information yielded by the accident does not mean only that the information must be made available to the investigator; the investigator must also learn and develop the significance conveyed by such data and information. Between the acquisition of the more or less raw information and the emission of the investigation report, there is more to do than a simple collage; a logical and coherent assembly must be produced which describes and explains the phenomenon (fire, accident, failure). The phenomenon must be captured and portrayed, rendered as in itself, as it happened. This quest draws on all the data and information that has survived the accident, until data and information is exhausted.

The investigative approach is all inclusive and rigorous - its logical and scientific value owes everything to methodology -- and the approach assesses its results in the action. In other words, not only is the investigative approach reconstructed each time, but it must be understood that the results are controlled as they are recorded. The investigator verifies everything, throughout the ongoing , progressive analysis : this is where the events are 'learned'.

I propose the following operational definition of the informative and/or instructional intentions of an investigation when the investigation is sufficiently supported by the research and analysis inherent to the investigative process (do we agree that where field investigation results are poor and offer data for a viable description of the occurrence or phenomenon; since indulging in 'opinions' is not acceptable, there will be little to 'inform' with, little material to return to prevention, etc.); the operational definition of a fire investigation may read as follows :

  • the action of the investigation is unique : end-uses of investigation project outputs are multiple

  • the action of an investigation is common with and supportive of all the other general objectives of concern to the parties involved

  • the action of the investigation occurs in an environment conducive to the development of the accident's characteristic features.
  • The investigative process endeavours to translate both the theory and the intentions formulated in our operational definition into relevant remediation measures of interest to those concerned with the recommendation process (normative, regulatory, legislative).

    The intentionalities of the investigation are programmed in the logic tools that are used as templates. Such templates are applied to the accident and to its manifestations in order to capture the profile of the phenomenon.

    The elements of this programming must be learned by the investigator and used not only in terms of methodological directions but also in the rendition or description of the occurrence. Then every investigation report will be a useful case study.

    The goal of learning, however, is not 'learning', it is Discovery -- which takes place between Inquiry and the Knowledge Acquisition of the phenomenon through its manifestations -- and all that 3-stage mental process is carried out in the Logic mode as conveyed in MES concepts and other similar tools :

    [GATHER + (assemble + discriminate -> DISCOVERY) =
    occurrence learned and transferred ].

    The learning process (and assigning their meaning to event units) provides 'knowledge' of the phenomenon at hand. The critical or discriminating process applies to investigation as investigation is applied to accidents, and more so to occurrences or phenomena concerned with technological failures (those breakaways from the neat order of specifications). Collisions (road, air, naval) are different in nature, for their occurrence is likely to owe more to behavior (or at least this is what we have been led to believe by traditional investigative methods) than to the phenomenon (as is said to be the case with fire for example).

    Whether the failure is due to technology, or to human behavior or omission, the phenomenon nevertheless occurs in a built environment with specified technical features . We must first and foremost generate an outline or diagnosis of the phenomenon from the traces or indicia left in the host environment (witness templates).

    An accident, so outlined, can be envisaged as an exception to the general 'rule' that a simple or complex system or equipment is normally reliable and safe , and not just an outcome with harmful consequences. The occurrence or phenomenon indicates that the equipment or system must be repaired and perfected, especially when the investigation is successful in describing and demonstrating in sufficient detail and with reasonable certainty the ignition sequence in the case of fire, and/or the accident sequence.

    Action : (General Vocabulary) The process or condition of acting or doing.
    Intention : A mental formulation involving foresight of some possible end, and the desire to seek to attain it.

    Intentionalism : The fact that an organism has consciousness at all means that there is something it is like to be that organism in that an organism has conscious mental states. Intentionalism, functionalism, physicalism, as well as reductionism, all fail to capture the subjection character of experience. (in other words, know and be conscious of what you are doing when doing so)

    Methodology of Teaching : The processes, techniques or approaches employed in the solution of a problem or in doing something : a particular procedure or set of procedures.

    Operational Definition : Defining a term by stating the operations or procedures employed in distinguishing the object referred to from others.

    Phenomenon : an observable fact or event, an item of experience or reality. For Kant: an object of experience in space and time as distinguished from a thing-in-itself.

    Programming : The purpose of programming is to translate objectives into end products. It is realized by organizing and determining the specifics of resources to be used, program by program.

    Remediation : Specific instruction based on comprehensive diagnostic findings and intended to overcome any particular deficiency that has emerged through the investigative process.

    Witness Plates : Something on which is implanted a partial or complete record of events to which it was exposed. (Benner, 1997)