Case Files : an important long term resource

When a UFO / USO report is received, we must switch from being a casual observer to being an investigator who has just been handed a new case. Whilst you may think you will remember everything about the report, and this may be true for a day or two, you need to consider the information you may need if you wish to refer back to your investigation in five years time. Even the best of memories will not remember every minute detail of every aspect after such a long time, so we need to keep asking ourselves “Will this pass the five-year test?” Your case files will build into an extremely valuable archive over time.

What should go in a Case File?

The short answer is everything to do with your investigation. You will be collecting information from a very wide range of sources.

  • Written Notes
  • Written Statements
  • Audio files of interviews
  • Video footage of interviews or location visits
  • Contact Details
  • Addresses
  • Telephone Numbers
  • Area maps
  • Sketches
  • Photographs

You name it, the chances are at some point you may use a method that is linked to your case. If it is linked, in any way, it should be in your case files.

Written Documents

Written content should be legible. Have you ever quickly scribbled something down on paper, then when you go back to it at a later date, you struggle to read what you have written? I know I have. If like me, your handwriting isn’t the neatest, you may find it useful to type up your written notes and print them out for the case file. Don’t forget to retain the hand-written note you made at the time, as well as the type-written transcript. Now you may be under the impression that re-typing notes will take a long time. It really depends on how quickly and accurately you can type. However, I find this re-writing process a really useful stage to go through, as I sometimes think of follow up questions I may need to go back and ask someone, or a new ‘official’ source I could contact to cross-reference information I have already been given.

Digital Assets

When it comes to digital assets like audio recordings, photographs or video footage we have to take a different approach. Let me ask you a question.

Question Mark Icon  If your computer was to break, right this second, so you could not switch it on or access all your documents and other files on your hard disk, what would you do?

How would you regain access to the information that you can no longer reach on your computer? Do you have backups of the information? Do you have copies of the information stored somewhere else? Inevitably, computers break down when it will cause most inconvenience. Sod’s law.

So you need to take some action to mitigate losing that information due to computer breakdowns.

Audio Recordings

For audio recordings, I like to have a type-written transcript in the case file. I also store the digital files, whether that is an MP3 or WAV format, on multiple computer hard drives. USB thumb drives have dropped sharply in price for instance and they are easy to tuck inside the file.

Photographs

For photographs, I tend to print out copies of the pictures as well as add them to the case USB drive as a backup to my main computer storage areas.

Video footage

Videos are the most difficult digital assets for me to secure as I have yet to come up with any physical alternative to the digital file. If I feel a piece of footage is important enough, such as a witness interview, I will type up a transcript and have a printed copy in the case file. Otherwise, it back to securing multiple copies of the MP4 or MPEG file on hard drives and a file copy added to the USB drive.

A word of caution about storing information on computers

Keep in mind that no computer system is 100% secure. So if you are using online storage systems you need to be aware of that risk and your legal obligations under Data Protection legislation for your jurisdiction. Thinking back to that five-year rule, consider how computers and technology have evolved in such a short period of time. Operating systems, file formats, storage technologies all change and evolve over time. Storage media such as CDs and DVDs degrade over time. Will your file still be readable in five, ten, fifteen or even twenty years time or will standards and the technology have moved on?

For that and other reasons, I try to follow the practice of professional archivists and stick to old-school paper wherever possible.

Storage of Case Files

Where people have requested it, you have an absolute duty to keep their details confidential.

You must ensure that your case files are kept in a secure manner.

When you are starting out your case files may be little more than a collection of document wallets or square cut folders. As your archive builds, however, you will inevitably grow into lever arch or box-files or even full-size archive boxes. All of this takes up space. You need to consider how you ensure nobody but you and people you authorise to view the files can get to them.

Security measures you will want to consider:

  • lockable cupboard or cabinet
  • concealed storage
  • fitting an alarm to the building where your files are stored
  • using a document safe
  • CCTV

You can end up spending an absolute fortune on security, but you have that duty of care to protect the confidentiality of individuals where it has been requested.

Remember, people often find seeing something they cannot explain has a profound effect on them. Whilst they may talk to you as a trusted investigator, you must never betray the trust they put in you and add to their problems.

So when it comes to keeping your files confidential and secure, you must make your own assessment of what security measures you can put in place to show you made reasonable endeavours to keep your case files securely. It also goes without saying that you will want to protect the hundreds, if not thousands of hours of your time and effort you will end up putting into to your archive.

While you may just be starting out and your needs remain quite small, it does not hurt to keep an eye on the growing numbers of files you will generate. Anticipate the growth and ensure appropriate storage is there when you need it.

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