Data Collection / Hardware / Environmental / Government / Surveying & Mapping Software / Marine / Hydrography / Total Stations

Superstorm Recovery

March 1, 2013
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A GdB field crew uses a Leica Total Station 1101 to lay out the position of the space shuttle U.S. Enterprise on the deck of the USS Intrepid Museum in New York City.

A combination of progressive technology, high standards and excellent service allows a New York firm to thrive despite challenges.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012, it left a wide swath of damage and destruction in its wake. Gayron de Bruin (GdB), a 14-person land surveying and engineering firm based in Bethpage, N.Y., a Long Island hamlet, was among the businesses that were severely affected. “I was actually at work during the day as the storm got going,” says GdB President Christine Gayron, LS. “Then (I) went home at 4:00 as it got more intense. We lost power, of course--everyone did--and had some IT issues. A bigger problem was gas; just getting to work was hard for our employees, and gassing up trucks meant waiting in line for hours.”

GdB felt more pressure than most businesses to get up and running quickly. The firm has a Term Agreement for Survey Services (TASS) with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and knew that preliminary survey work would be needed prior to important storm recovery projects. “Sandy hit on Monday, and we didn’t have power at the office until Thursday,” says Gayron. “I called our NYSDOT contact that very day, to let them know we were available.”

NYSDOT wasted no time. GdB had an assignment the next day, and early Saturday morning, two crews were on their way to Ocean Parkway, a state road that runs along one of the barrier beach islands on the south side of Long Island.

In fact, Ocean Parkway is the only connection between several islands, communities, other parkways, and major state parks such as Jones Beach and Robert Moses. “Sandy washed water over the entire island and parkway in some spots, completely wiping out the dunes that normally protect the road,” Gayron says. “So we didn’t know what to expect; we weren’t even sure we’d be able to get to the site.”

Fortunately, NYSDOT had already made progress clearing the road, using snowplows and other techniques to push away sand. When GdB trucks arrived, state troopers were onsite to restrict access, but, in the cooperative spirit that prevailed after Sandy, waved the surveyors through to do their work.

A destroyed dock near Gilgo Beach.

GdB had been asked to complete an emergency control survey to support photogrammetric and aerial LiDAR mapping being performed to assess parkway damage. NYSDOT was concerned about the parkway being buckled or undermined by storm surges. “NYSDOT set targets before the storm and didn’t know if they would still be there,” says Gayron, “And if they were in place, would they still be visible or would they be covered with sand? We found that most were there; many had to be swept off, and a handful had to be reset.”

The job involved “only” a hundred points or so but, like the rest of Long Island, crews would be dealing with Sandy’s aftermath. And GdB’s practice of collecting GNSS data twice for each point, at different times of day, compounded the challenges. “Really,” says Gayron, “We were collecting about 200 points, in difficult conditions.”

Because of uncertainty about cell phone use and the state of NYSNET, the NYSDOT continuously operated reference station (CORS) system, GdB brought every receiver in its shop out to Ocean Parkway. “We were prepared to set up a base station, if needed,” Gayron explains. “But during the project, we were able to use a combination of cell phones and radios to get NYSNET data, and we were able to do this work as accurately as we could have pre-Sandy. Getting around was hard sometimes, but getting the precision we needed wasn’t.”

An added complication was that midway through the project, the NYSNET station coordinates were updated from NAD83 (CORS96) to NAD83 2011 (Epoch 2010.00). But even that went smoothly; GdB is an all Leica Geosystems office and used Leica Geomatics Office to update the GNSS data from Leica’s GS15 and System 500 receivers with the changed coordinates. Surveyors were able to make the mid-project conversion without a hitch.

Crews worked east and west from Gilgo Beach, near the center of the most damaged area. Working 10-hour days, the crews made good progress. “We were able to survey 92 out of the 100 control points we were assigned,” says Gayron. “The eight we didn’t get to were on marsh islands that were inaccessible, thanks to Sandy. We also helped out NYSDOT by uncovering or resetting a lot of the targets they’d been setting.”

In two long weekend shifts and some office time on Monday, data was collected, post-processed, checked for quality and delivered to NYSDOT less than 72 hours after the initial call. In addition to assessing damage and planning repairs, the data is also being used to calculate the volume of sediment moved by Sandy.

Several smaller, but still urgent, projects kept GdB busy in the weeks following. For example, the village of Saltaire’s surveyor, John Mayer, LS, wanted GdB to find the village’s missing sand.

Saltaire is a village on Fire Island, another of Long Island’s barrier islands, and it’s one of the few Long Island communities that can only be reached by boat or on foot. Sandy wiped out dunes that the village depends on to protect residential areas from tides and erosion, so a beach section survey was needed to find areas where sand could be removed for dune reconstruction. By law, sand can only be repositioned if it’s above a defined elevation. Sand is so important to Saltaire that the mayor got involved and even made a site visit. But the mayor didn’t like what the survey said. “We had to tell him, ‘No sand’” says Gayron. “Sandy washed it all away.”

Nassau County also called, worried about their mud. “We’ve been doing pre-dredge and post-dredge surveying for the county since 2008,” Gayron explains, “monitoring sediment buildup in the pond and near a bridge. Basically, they were wondering if four years of work had been undone.”

A GdB field crew uses GS-15 RTK GPS to survey post-Sandy Beach erosion for the town of Oyster Bay.

The “pond” is Udall’s Pond, a 230-acre, tidally influenced wetland area. It’s muddy, but most of the hydrographic work can be done with a boat or from the bridge. In some areas, GdB was forced to use a “custom pond-crossing gadget,” which is essentially a sled with a Leica prism attached; crews towed the sled across areas of thick mud to capture profiles of surfaces that defied walking and boating. Using these methods, GdB was able to show that sediment hadn’t returned to dredged areas, and around the bridge (desirable) sediment buildup had actually increased. “It was nice to deliver some good news, for a change,” says Gayron.

The inventive application of the sophisticated TS15 total stations to a pond full of mud captures something important about GdB as a company: The firm, which has been standardized on Leica Geosystems instruments for several years, specializes in applying progressive technology to traditional survey tasks.

The “de Bruin” in Gayron de Bruin is Gregory J. de Bruin, LS, PE, a longtime surveyor from a surveying family. He was a principal at A. James de Bruin and Sons, and then president of DeBruin Geomatics. “In order to be successful in our industry,” he says, “we must constantly raise the bar, and that means exceptional client service, cutting edge technology, and providing highly accurate results in a short time frame.” In addition to early adoption of GNSS, robotic total stations and other progressive instrumentation, de Bruin was an early provider of GIS expertise and consulting in the Long Island area. He also developed “RawFixer,” a custom data management package that processes raw data, checks data quality, and converts output to preferred client formats.

Gayron, by contrast, backed into surveying by way of a degree in geology. “I found out in school that what I really like doing is drawing maps,” she says. She became a partner in 2010, after 10 years of working with de Bruin. Just 35, Gayron clearly relishes being one of New York’s relatively few women land surveyors and is as ambitious as any young partner in an established firm. She describes the firm as “top heavy” with talent (the firm employs five licensed land surveyors) and expects to add additional offices within a few years. She also supported the purchase of the firm’s first laser scanner, a Leica ScanStation, now used regularly for construction, monitoring and bridge surveys. GdB also rents a Leica C10 scanner for fast surveys of complex interiors – an expanding specialty.

Gayron and de Bruin are productive partners, and the firm’s new status as a woman-owned business has brought in a great deal of government work. Overall, the firm appears to be thriving by adhering to a basic policy: Apply progressive technology, maintain high standards, and provide exceptional client service. That GdB has done well in a tough economy is a testament to these important tenets and a source of hope for a profession that can be threatened by low-cost providers.

“(In Sandy’s aftermath), every single GdB employee was dealing with power outages, some of them for up to 12 days,” says Gayron. “And yet, we were able to come together and complete some of the most urgent survey projects we’ve ever undertaken. I have to say, they all stepped up and worked hard under extraordinary circumstances. I’ve never been prouder to work for this firm, or to be a surveyor. This storm taught us that you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

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