What’s in the Bag: 8 Must Have Tools for Your Site Survey Go Bag

Bring these items on your site surveys to help minimize the risk of inaccuracy on your next project.

Chris Neto
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Whether you are a salesperson, engineer or technician, at some point in your career you have been asked to survey a site. The request could be as simple as measuring a credenza where a potential piece of hardware will be housed or a full blown site survey of an entire campus. Regardless of the project size, having accurate information is key to design success.

In order to minimize the risk of inaccuracy, I recommend putting together a bag with basic tools that should be with you at all times to help you survey sites. A “Go Bag” is a typically associated with emergency situations in times of crisis, but in this case we are looking to avoid the crisis by being prepared.

Here are some basic items that should be part of your site survey “Go Bag,” which should fit inside your briefcase or book bag:

1. Checklist: The first and most important item in the bag is a hardcopy checklist/plan. Creating it is simple. Schedule time to sit with A/V engineers and field technicians who have spent time in the field. They know first-hand what the effects of a bad site survey can do a project. Try to make the checklist generic to be used in a variety of situations but very detailed when it comes to survey actions. I encourage you to create this form as a one size fits all. That way, regardless of the project type, it will remind you to look for every little detail.

2. Tape Measure and Laser Tape: Tape measures are typically carried by many in our industry. (I personally carry one in my bag, one in the car and at my desk.) I have found that 25-foot tape measures works well. I also carry a laser tape, which allows me to quickly grab the room dimensions, distance from the furthest seating position to the screen and a projector throw. Most of the time you are on surveys by yourself, so the laser tape works well when you don’t have an extra set of hands.

3. Light Meter: Lighting is often overlooked in surveys. Light meters can be purchased anywhere from $15 to $2,000. Regardless of the budget, pick one up. The light meter will be very helpful for selecting the right projection screen material and it will come in handy when adding a videoconferencing system and its camera. Your light readings will also help justify the purchase, modification or upgrade to the lighting system.

4. SPL meter: This is another important weapon in your site survey arsenal. Similar to the light meter, an SPL meter can be purchased around the same price range. The SPL (sound pressure level) meter measures acoustic energy in decibels. In a site survey, it is helpful to grab the ambient noise of the room. The SPL readings can help justify service or maintenance to a noisy HVAC system or the addition of acoustic panels to tame noise coming from outside the room.

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5. Camera: The camera is no brainer. Snap pictures of everything from every angle. I typically start by snapping a pic of the room number outside the door and then move inside snapping pics of every wall starting with the display wall and moving clockwise. Along with the walls make sure to grab pictures of the ceiling, floors, floor boxes, existing wall plates, tables and pics of where the equipment rack will be located. In a renovation it’s important to take pics of the table top, table pedestals and its existing interfaces. Many people use the camera phone which is a great option or you can carry a separate camera to conserve your cell battery.

6. Flashlight: It may be trivial but you will be glad you pack one away when your site survey requires you to crawl behind racks or searching for cable paths. Buy one and throw it your bag.

7. Source Material: In renovation jobs you may be asked to reuse existing equipment. Testing out the sources and discovering something is not working early in the project is crucial. A laptop will take care of the basic VGA or HD source send. It would also be wise to pick up a combo pack Blu-Ray movie that comes with a DVD copy. That will give you test material and at the same time allow you to see the existing display and control system operation. A great tool to carry is a video test generator that has both analog and HD test patterns. A bonus to the video test generator is that it will also do audio tests.

8. Miscellaneous: BYOC (bring your own cables). Having some cable in your bag is a must. I’d rather have them then go back to test and table interface that was missing a cable. Along with the VGA and HDMI cables I also carry a USB A to B, USB to DB9 cable, VGA coupler and a crossover cable just in case I have to connect to some processors. Along with the cables, don’t forget some basic tools like a flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, and a pair of snips.

Though it may sound like a lot of gear to carry, it will come in handy prove to be very helpful. I’m sure there some really nice high end tech gear that can do the job and more, but that’s completely up to you and your budget. Assemble your “go bag” and share what works for you!