Extreme Scanning: Collision Reconstruction in Arctic Temperatures

When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) decided to equip its Forensic Collision Reconstruction unit in Brandon, Manitoba, with high-definition 3D laser scanning technology in spring 2014, ruggedness was the agency’s No. 1 specification. “Winter in Manitoba is an absolutely unforgiving season,” said Cpl. Byron Charbonneau, of the Forensic Collision Reconstruction unit. “We had to have an instrument that was capable in extremely cold temperatures.”

The agency selected the Leica ScanStation for its operating temperature range of minus 20 C to 50 C (minus 4 F to 122 F) and for its IP54 rating against dust and water ingress, which enables it to be used in wet conditions. “When we went looking, there was no other alternative on the market,” Charbonneau explained. “Leica Geosystems was the only manufacturer providing equipment that was capable of operating in literally arctic temperatures.”

Putting the Scanner to the Test

With a vast territory to cover, the RCMP reconstructionists must be prepared to work in any weather, especially extreme cold. “Our average winter conditions range from minus 10 to minus 35 degrees C in Manitoba,” Charbonneau said.

In the ScanStation’s first year of deployment, Charbonneau had to use it in temperatures exceeding its environmental ratings on at least two occasions.
“One scene I did last winter was a frigid-cold minus 26 C with snow-covered ground. It was a pedestrian fatality, and the scanner was out for nine stations. We had no problems at all,” Charbonneau said. “ It was just as if the scanner had been used on a nice summer’s afternoon. The data was that good.”

The second occasion was a nonfatal single-vehicle, pedestrian-involved incident. “This was a scene where we had high winds, heavy ground-drifting snow, and, again, it was minus 26 C, so we had wind-chill values approaching minus 40 C,” he said. “Again, the scanner had no issues.”

Extreme cold is not the only harsh weather the reconstructionists and their technology have to endure in Manitoba. Last winter, Charbonneau experienced one of the most grueling weather conditions of his eight-year career as an RCMP reconstructionist.
RCMP Manitoba
The scene was a fatal motor vehicle collision in Northern Manitoba. When Charbonneau and his team arrived, it was nighttime. The temperature was hovering just above freezing, and it was very windy. The scene, which was to be scanned in its entirety, encompassed the roadway, the ditch and the forested area where the vehicle came to rest.

Shortly after they began scanning, the weather changed dramatically. It started raining, and the temperature dropped to minus 4 C. The rain turned into freezing rain, then heavy wet snow, then back to freezing rain. “By the time we were finished with that scene, everything was soaking wet, including us,” Charbonneau said. “It was probably one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever had to work, given that we were soaking wet in freezing temperatures. But It didn’t bother the equipment at all. We just wiped it off, put it away and dried it out the next day. It was no worse for wear.”

Documenting Scenes with Confidence

With the team’s first winter of scanning behind them and the next fast approaching, Charbonneau has no hesitations about 3D laser scanning in Manitoba’s unforgiving weather. The RCMP Forensic Collision Reconstruction unit, together with the Forensic Identification Services unit, now operates eight Leica ScanStations with complete confidence. “You have no idea how it’s going to perform or what the data is going to look like until you actually go out and use it. Having scanned in all kinds of environmental conditions, I would do it again tomorrow. It wouldn’t bother me at all,” Charbonneau said.

“In fact, the scanner is far more comfortable in the cold then I am.”

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