Compiled From Various Investigator Mailing Lists
Compiled By Ralph Thomas



The decade was 1970ish and I was trucking my butt up and down the state of Florida doing suveillances almost every day. I had a nice van with air conditioning but naturally, you couldn't keep the air conditioning running for very long when you were waiting for someone to move. Most of my surveillances were roofer type people with a worker's compensation claim so I was always happy to be up at 5:00 AM in the morning to be on the job by 5:30-and always happy when the guy moved just as the sun came out but many times they didn't. Setting in a van all morning (and sometimes all afternoon) waiting for someone to move in ninety to one hundred degree weather in the summer time will certainly give you the case of the "helter swelters" (as William "Moon" Mullen calls it as the title of a forthcoming book!) My solution to the problem was to install these little fans all over the inside of the van that ran off a separate battery. I also used a large water cooler filled with ice water that had a pump hose on it so I could water myself down now and then. Several good towels were always on hand. Without breaking the law, dress was always as naked as I could be. Shorts, no shoes and no shirt. I always kept extra changes of clothing around of course. You never know when someone is going to come out dressed in a three piece suite you may end up having to tail on foot in a place in which shorts and sandals with no shirt will make you stick out like a sore thumb.

My funniest memory is this one: After a long six hour waiting period on a case that only one investigator was used, a neighbor came up to the car and asked, "Could I help you?" My response was-you sure can-here's five bucks-could you run down to McDonalds and get me a quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry and three cokes and would you fill this cooler up with cold water again? If I'm gone when you come back, you can have the food-I will be back later for the water cooler. From previous assignments of this case, I had assumed the subject would be out by 10:00 AM but he was not and I ran out of water and never had any breakfast.

Conducting a surveillance in the dead of the summer can give you the helter swelters. In fact, it can be dangerous. There isn't any doubt about that. Most investigators will pray for rain and pray for the subject to move quick. However, it doesn't always happen that way.

One of the obvious actions to take when the subject isn't moving and the van starts to heat up is to simply start your engine and turn on the air conditioning. Depending on the type of surveillance you are on, you may or may not be in a position to do this. If you are in a rural area off a major high traffic road waiting for something to happen, you should have no problem. However, if you are positioned in a residual neighborhood, nothing is going to stick out more than a parked van with a person in it that keeps starting the engine and turning it off. There are some basic and simple techniques you can use to help you keep your cool as much as possible. Some of these techniques are trade-offs for views and video ability but you can use them as much as you can.


With all that said, I'm going to go through some tips that will make you move comfortable when your job requires you to stay inside a surveillance van for extended periods of time and then add some sources and techniques for having your own air condition. There are short-term techniques you can use to quickly cool yourself down that provide you relief. Remember that the demand for a surveillance day can be of any 24 hour period. Of that, a good 8 hour period between about 10 AM to about 6 PM are the hard heat times. The extreme heat is usually only about 4 hours from about 11:30 AM to about 3:30 PM. Some would point out that the worst times are not the high noon and hours beyond times but the early morning and late afternoon because the sun it beating right into the van windows at a low angle. That's of course true but can usually be avoid. You actually have several different types of problems with relationship to the sun. They are:


A) In the early morning and late afternoon, the sun will hit the sides and windows of your van at low angles which can cause a massive and quick buildup of heat based on greenhouse effects from these low angle sun beams.

B) In the dead of the day, noon and beyond; the air heats up and the sun beats down on the top of the van that will cause rapid heat buildup inside the van.

C) Towards the end of the day, the heat is at it's highest as the sun had heated up the air. It's just plan hot outside and inside the van.

During the extreme heat periods, if you can keep the windows of the van away from the beating sun, you can usually keep the interior van heat to a workable condition and the uncomfortable heat to a minimum by utilizing a few simple techniques. However, it must be pointed out that there are just going to be some times when you are just going to have to take it.


Here are fourteen tips to stay cooler

KEEP WINDOWS OPENED: This might seem obvious and it actually is. Keep as many windows opened as you can.

VENT: The inside of a van can get very hot in the heat of the summer. Venting the inside of the van as much as you can will keep the greenhouse effect and heat build up to a minimum.

INSTALL FANS: You can go to just about any electronics store such as Radio Shack and obtain small fans that run off of separate batteries and install them inside your van. It's important to get the kind of fans that have guards around them so you don't accidently stick your head, hands or arms in the blades. It's important to run them off a separate battery. You don't want the subject to come out and have no battery power to start your engine for the actual tail. Having some of those little portable flashlight battery fans around you can point at your face is also helpful.

WATER, WATER: The use of cold water jugs can be especially helpful. Have several on hand. You can purchase attachments to the jugs that have little hoses and spray handles. This is quite useful so you can spray yourself with the water to help keep you cool. It's also quite helpful to drink a lot of water. Drinking water is much better than soda and it will help keep your body cooler. I can not tell you the number of times that I have dumped two gallon jugs of water over my body to keep cool. It does the job.

OUTSIDE SHADE: It's not always possible but when you can, get your surveillance van in the shade as much as you can. This, of course, keeps the sun from beating down on your surveillance vehicle and helps keep the inside of your van cooler. In planning your pre-surveillance of the area, always look for places in which the surveillance vehicle can be stationed in the shade and make note of course of the times of the day that the surveillance will likely take place.

WINDOW SHADES: Use window shades that completely block out the sun. By doing this, you can keep the sun blocked from your windows as much as you can which deduces the greenhouse effect of interior heatup. One of the best shades to use is black curtains with black mesh behind them. Black tends to block the sun the best. The mesh adds protection when you need to have the actual curtain open.

INSULATE: Your typical van has little insulation in it. A stripped van has none. That is, the only thing between you and the sun beating down on the top and sides of your van is the metal. Any type of insulation you can install in the van will help reduce the heatup. Many place thick carpeting on the sides and roof of their surveillance van. This helps somewhat but the thing to remember is that the more insulation you have, the longer it's going to take to heat up the inside of the van. One consideration would be to place thick insulation in the van and then an inside wall of other material.

CLOTHING: I would guess that you can not say enough about it. I got'a tell you to stay as naked as legally possible. Shorts, sandals and tank tops are the best dress in the heat of the summer. It's best to wear light colored cotton clothing. I prefer the type of sandal you can easily slip in and out of. Forget the socks, the less clothing you have on the better. Under garments should be of the boxer type. Some surveillance specialists will wear bathing suites with no under garments at all. Those around the water can sometimes take a quick jump into a lake, pool or the ocean when the opportunity allows it. This is certainly a quick way to cool off. Of course, as I mentioned, it's important to be a quick-change artist and have alternative clothing ready should you need to follow someone on foot.

HAIR AND OTHER GROOMING: Keep your hair short. With long hair, it will act as more of a layer of insulation that will hold the heat you don't want. I have found that some perfumes and after shave lotions don't do to well in a surveillance van that is heating up. Keep that stuff for after work. A shower in the morning just before the surveillance and one just after helps for obvious reasons. One of the nicer things about working surveillances around the ocean or lake areas is that you can always take that quick swim right before or just after the surveillance.

WINDOW TINTING: Keep your windows tinted as much as you can. There is, of course, a trade-off here. The darker your windows are tinted, the more problem you will have shooting through them to obtain surveillance video footage.

ICE AND MORE ICE: A summer surveillance investigator without any ice in his van is asking for it. A huge ice chest is in order. Keep plenty of ice around and fill your ice chest up whenever you have the opportunity.

TOWELS: Nothing is more satisfying than to have a wet towel on hand that has been soaked in cold water when the heat of the interior of the van starts to go up. It's also helpful to have some towels around that are dry.

TIMING OF THE SURVEILLANCE: Naturally, the time you do the surveillance is going to have a direct effect on all of this. It's hotter in the afternoon than in the morning. It's, of course, cooler after the sun is down than when it's up. You can not always make an allowance for this type of thing as the surveillance needs to be done when it needs to be done. But you can use the times best for low heatup when you have the opportunity.

WIND: "Oh if only there was a little wind coming through my vents." Is the cry of many surveillance investigators. By knowing which way the wind is blowing, you might be in a position to station the van in a position so you can take advantage of this.

Here are three tips for having your own inside air conditioning

With a large ice chest, some styrofoam and a small fan, you can build a surveillance cooling system yourself. You will have to modify the ice chest on the top with the styrofoam. Cut two holes in it along with matching holes in the top of the ice chest. Place a 12 volt fan in one hole. Fill the ice chest with block ice and turn on the fan. You have created a cooling system that will help you stay cooler inside the van but don't expect it to work like an air condition. Although many have made statements that you can use dry ice in this sort of setup, don't do it. Dry ice can produce carbon dioxide and could kill you.

Joe Enterprises makes and sells a Surveillance Van Cooler that consists of a large ice chest with a fan in it. To Contact: Jo Enterprises 114 West. 3rd Street Long Beach MS. 39560 Phone 228-868-7516 Fax 228-864-8731 Email:

Here's a portable air conditioning link that works off of either 12 or 110 volts someone forwarded to me. Looks like a good unit for a surveillance van.
The Swampy SpaceKoolr

On two vehicle surveillances in which one vehicle is stationed close in a neighborhood and the other out on a main road away from site, it is sometimes useful to switch places. The remote vehicle can turn on it's air conditioning on high and cool down the surveillance van until it's almost freezing then switch places with the other van who then cools the interior of the van down.



Here you will find articles, aids and links on the subject of surveillance

The Surveillance Forum is a networked forum of private investigators to discuss surveillance issues. You have the ability to subscribe in a digest form which means you only receive one message per day with all the posts. You can pose questions, get answers, network with other investigators and there is even some back and forth case referrals going on. To subscribe, just go to:

The original mailing list for private investigators.
For information on subscribing, go to:


A large collection of reviews on surveillance video cameras and related supplies

This internet page has extensive reviews of night vision equipment.