Point of Beginning

Editor's Note: A Lost Opportunity

April 19, 2000
No surveyors are involved in this school's GIS mapping project. Why not?

The Londonderry School in Harrisburg, Pa., is partnering with higher education and private business to create a community-based GIS via a Web-based GIS system. The student-constructed GIS will be used to map the Capital Area Greenbelt, a system of linked parks, trails, lakes, rivers, streams and creeks encircling Pennsylvania's capital city.

Key activities of the project include data collection, water quality monitoring, computer digitizing of maps, database construction and Web-based GIS applications. Students will be doing their own ground truthing with GPS. Technical assistance is being provided by Geodecisions, Mapquest.com, the Center for Image Processing in Education, Penn State University and Dickinson College, among others. The final product will be a vital community resource accessible via the Internet through the Dauphin county library system, the Whitaker Center for the Science and Arts and a satellite GIS station at the Nature Center at Wildwood Lake Sanctuary.

What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing is wrong with the project itself. It gives students a great opportunity to learn about GIS and GPS. What is very wrong is that no surveyors are involved. This means that some surveyors around Harrisburg really missed the boat! The Greenbelt GIS project would have been an opportunity for local surveyors to involve themselves in their community, establish themselves as experts in GIS, participate in educating young people and promote their own businesses in the process.

Mary Pat Evans, director of the Londonderry School, is overseeing the data collection for the Greenbelt GIS base map. I asked her why no surveyors were involved. "Middle school students will collect the data with GPS," she says. "They will use an already established local datum in Harrisburg to create the base map."

This project was fairly well-publicized. Why didn't some surveyor who read about it call Ms. Evans and offer his or her expertise to oversee the students' data collection and assist in the creation of the GIS base map?

Why didn't anyone explain that surveyors really are the experts when it comes to GIS base maps?

Shouldn't that be common knowledge? Apparently it is not. Nor is it likely to become common knowledge soon unless surveyors as a profession get off their collective butts and establish themselves as GIS experts before it's too late. If we wait much longer, nobody will believe we're a necessary part of the GIS equation.

Jackie Headapohl

Editor