Point of Beginning

The Latest News

June 21, 2002
Moving forward with the National Map; A "New ACSM" on the horizon; GPS to deliver more military power; and Texas Foundation sets educational example.

Moving Forward with the National Map

Imagine being able to turn to your PC to find up-to-date and reliable geographic data about any location in the United States. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) hopes that within the next 10 years this will become a reality.

The organization sells 2.5 million topographic maps a year. But some of these maps date back to 1935 when it first began mapping the country; the average age of the maps in use now is 23 years. The USGS has been wrestling with the issue of keeping updated information available and they believe they have devised a solution.

This solution comes in the form of the National Map, a seamless, continuously maintained foundation of geographic data.

Though the USGS has a 10-year vision for completion of the project, it is hopeful that it won’t take that long. “We really hope and expect to have much of it completed in the next five years, with maintenance ongoing forever,” said Mark DeMulder, USGS program chief of the National Map. This ambitious goal relies heavily on involvement from the private sector. Already 50 percent of new USGS mapping is outsourced—a figure expected to increase. The USGS plans to take advantage of mapping projects already in progress by adding information acquired from them to a database, as well as contracting private companies to map specific areas. This is a significant break from the past, as previously, government employees gathered the data for the original maps in use by the USGS.

As the maps will be obtained from various sources, integration will be the main role of the USGS. It will integrate the data horizontally and vertically to provide a consistent view of the nationwide data. They expect help in this area to come from the continually maturing technology available such as GPS, GIS and remote sensing.

DeMulder compared maintenance of the National Map to the banking industry. “We all have ATM cards that we can use almost anywhere in the world. If we complete a transaction at an ATM it is posted to a database somewhere, and by the next morning the database is up-to-date. Our partners will have relationships with us that allow them to post updates to a database immediately, thus allowing for real-time maintenance of the National Map.”

Aside from providing the actual data for the National Map, the USGS hopes the surveying and mapping community will play a critical role in quality assurance and certification of data from various sources. It hopes to work with them on establishing quality assurance processes and steps, as well as providing training and outreach to non-professional groups or volunteers who may be helping to update the map. The surveying and mapping community can provide training for these volunteers and establish certification processes to ensure they deliver quality information.

A “New ACSM” on the Horizon

The American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) has adopted a new strategy in an attempt to make itself more effective. “With membership decreasing, this was an effort to address concerns we’ve heard from people when we talk to them about membership,” said Curt Sumner, ACSM’s executive director. At a planning retreat this spring where attendees focused on how the Congress could grow and prosper, a proposal for a “New ACSM” was born.

Under the proposal, the ACSM and its four member organizations would be restructured. The “New ACSM” will have no individual members. Instead, individual members will belong directly to their respective member organizations. Those organizations will be self-governing and responsible for establishing their own membership criteria and services, as well as budgeting their own independent resources. The member organizations will form a congress of representatives to serve as a forum for activities of mutual interest. The congress will be comprised of the president and president-elect of each member organization, or two representatives as appointed or elected in a process to be determined by each member organization. The chair of the congress will rotate annually among the member organizations. ACSM will also provide administrative services for its member organizations on a contract basis.

”[This] is not an effort to segment the profession. Each group can govern itself independently with respect to issues that may be important to its membership but not necessarily to that of the other groups, and still all come together to address overarching issues on an ongoing basis,” Sumner explained.

The four member organizations believe that the ability to market themselves to interest groups and pursue new members would be enhanced by being autonomous. Thus, surveying issues would be governed at the national level by surveyors, and issues important to cartographers and other interest groups would be governed by members of their respective professions.

The goal of the “New ACSM” is to make the organization more effective. The “New ACSM” is responsive to the stated wishes of its current members, as well as potential members, and has the flexibility to adjust to evolving membership requirements while being positioned to serve future constituents and their needs. With this new structure, it is anticipated that organizations not currently associated with ACSM may wish to become part of the Congress for specific or ongoing issues.

Although the leadership of ACSM and the member organizations has adopted the proposed plan and initiated the development of the details to implement it, the entire package must still be presented to the full ACSM membership for a final approval vote once development is completed. This vote is expected to come in the fall, and implementation of the plan would begin in January 2003.

GPS to Deliver More Military Power

The Pentagon has proposed upgrading the newest GPS satellites that have not yet been launched. The upgrade would allow the satellites to put out a signal eight times stronger than what they can currently produce.

The boosted signals would be available only for military use, however, to avoid what U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld terms “a space Pearl Harbor.” The GPS devices used by civilians would not be affected, nor would over-the-counter GPS locators used by foreign militaries. These devices would continue to receive the low-power transmissions, leaving them vulnerable to jamming. This would also allow the U.S. military to jam an enemy’s GPS receiver while still using its own.

The Bush administration is seeking $50 million of the total $200 million it would ultimately cost for the project in its 2003 budget.

Texas Foundation Sets Educational Example

The Texas Board of Professional Land Surveyors (TBPLS) and the Texas Legislature require a four-year college degree prior to registering a person as a surveyor. But many of the major universities in Texas still do not offer surveying degrees. Driven by what they see as a contradiction between degree requirements for surveyors and a lack of surveying degree programs, a group of prominent surveyors in the Texas Gulf Coast have formed the Professional Surveyors Education Foundation (PSEF). This non-profit corporation was created to fund educational programs in the Houston area and throughout the state. Each of the members of PSEF is or was president of a surveying company with more than 30 employees, and all are active in the profession. There is no membership outside the board of directors and it draws on the good will and support of the surveying community for help with activities.

“It is ironic that as the surveying profession makes giant strides toward adopting today’s high tech tools, the academic world is only slowly returning to the formal training of young men and women in this historic profession,” said Andrew Lonnie Sikes, former chairman of the TBPLS and co-founder of PSEF. “In the past 20 years alone surveying has evolved from an apprentice profession into a profession based on education and technology,” he added.

Sikes was a member of NCEES’s Committee on Examination of Professional Surveyors for many years and saw that varying educational backgrounds of surveyors was a trend not unique to Texas. Surveyors across the United States have levels of education ranging from high school diplomas to PhDs.

“The practice of surveying is such that not all surveyors need to be degreed to have financially rewarding work. Many professionals have a practice limited to a well-defined service in a well-defined geographical area. For many of these surveyors, the profession makes few demands on their educational background,” he said. “Other practitioners, regardless of their educational background, find themselves faced with very complicated technical questions that an apprenticeship simply does not answer.”

Hoping to be an example for others to start similar efforts in their areas of practice, the group’s initial efforts have been focused on Houston, Texas, followed by the rest of Texas. The first response to their efforts came from the University of Houston. Over the past 18 months, the PSEF has worked with the university to implement and fund a surveying curriculum and a four-year degree plan, which is now in place. Curtis Johnson, a professor in the College of Technology at the university and the interim chair during negotiations with PSEF, said that due to the change in the state law, the university felt it would be appropriate to restart a surveying program. “We are seeing considerable interest in the program and anticipate strong enrollment in it,” Johnson added.

“This step is indeed in the right direction,” Sikes said, “but we need to expand this program into every engineering college in Texas.”

Associate Editor Emily Vass compiles “The Latest News.” If you have a timely, newsworthy item, contact her at 248/244-6465 or E-mail vasse@bnp.com. Also visit www.pobonline.com for daily news updates.