People / Boundary & Topo

25 Hours in Haiti

June 1, 2013
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The alarm was set for 4 a.m. on March 15. It was going to be a long day.

Tate Jones and Allen Nobles, two experienced land surveyors from the Southeast, were embarking on a mission to Haiti to survey space for a new community kitchen. The existing kitchen feeds some 1,400 children their only meal each day, often no more than beans and rice. They are the lucky ones. Many children in the area receive only “mud cookies,” made from a mixture of local clay, shortening and salt.

Several Atlanta-area churches, including Heritage Christian Church from Peachtree City and Crossroads Church from Newnan, have joined together to build a bigger kitchen in Port-au-Prince that can feed thousands more. They enlisted the help of Paul Gresham, an architect and innovator with Arc2 Collaborative Studios, a volunteer organization of designers that give their time to mission organizations that need professional design and master planning support. Gresham asked the two surveyors if they would be willing to create a base map for the construction plan.

“When I first showed Allen the emails about the kids down there, he immediately said, ‘How can we say no to that?’” says Jones, president of Roswell, Ga.-based LandAir Surveying Co.

Nobles, who is president of Nobles Consulting Group in Tallahassee, Fla., has been friends with Jones for many years and has worked with him on projects all over the country—but nothing quite like this. “The unknown is always a bit unsettling, and the idea of going to Haiti after reading all the information definitely made me nervous,” he says. “But it was for a good cause.”

The plan was to scan the entire site, consisting of a one-story school, an old building housing the existing kitchen, the land on which the future kitchen would be built, a church and the campus walls. In the existing 20- by 25-foot kitchen, equipment consists of some large bowls and pans used for cooking and washing dishes. The stove features six propane burners. The kitchen has no running water, and the sewer system is merely a pipe that goes through the wall to a creek out back.

Nearby, merchants stack used bicycle rims and tires, wood piles and worn-out shoes in their makeshift storefronts while pigs, goats and cows nose through mounds of garbage to find something to eat. Dysentery, yellow fever, malaria and cholera plague the impoverished area, and the roads are full of potholes. To further complicate matters, this part of Port-au-Prince has a high crime rate. Shootings, rape, kidnapping and looting are said to be common. “We understood much more about how to capture data with a laser scanner than how to navigate our way in and around Haiti,” Jones says.


In the months leading up to the project, Gresham had provided an idea of what he needed from the design team. The school building was approximately 300-feet long and was divided into 10 classrooms. The building housing the existing kitchen was in the center of the campus and would be demolished.

The goal was to produce a map of the campus and get enough information on the existing school so that a second floor could be added. Gresham and his design team would prepare a master plan for future development, but their top priority was building a large and modern kitchen capable of feeding 10,000 people daily.

Jones and Nobles decided to take a FARO Focus3D scanner and supporting equipment along with a small level, rulers and a tripod. Nobles also brought along some card stock targets with numbers, lead weights (prop shaft anodes) to hold them and six globes that cost around $5 each.

“When we decided to go on the trip, we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time onsite, so we planned our equipment for lightness and mobility,” says Jones. “It’s not easy to get all of the survey equipment you need into two backpacks and two small carry-on bags. You have to be creative and decide what you want, but take what you need.”

The trip to Haiti went smoothly except for one thing. “When I was going through security in the Miami airport, the TSA officials were suspicious of the prop shaft anodes,” Nobles says. “I had to pull one of them out and stick a target on it so they could see what it was for. Having a movie clip on my phone of the target and the scanner working also helped.”

At 12:30 p.m. on March 15, after seven hours of travel and several plane transfers, Jones and Nobles arrived in Haiti, where a driver from the mission was waiting for them. They made their way through back roads crowded with cars and children and finally arrived at the front gate of the school where the kitchen will be built. Their van pulled into the tight driveway, and the driver blew his horn, a sign for the guards to open the gate. “I kept thinking about how much I wanted to finally meet the kids,” Jones says.



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