Point of Beginning

The Latest News

March 24, 2003
Understanding ExpressMap; Antarctic Mountain Reaches New Height; African School Named for Surveyor; and Lewis and Clark: A 3D Perspective.

Understanding ExpressMap

A new service offered by First American Title Insurance Company of Santa Ana, Calif., called ExpressMap promises its clients an alternative way to insure title to land “free and clear of survey matters,” eliminating the need for an ALTA/ACSM Land Title survey. This raises concern and discussion within the surveying profession, as surveyors struggle to understand what this company is truly offering and what it means for the public. ACSM Executive Director Curt Sumner was concerned as well.

Sumner sent a letter to First American with the support of about 30 state societies, listing several questions and potential problems with the service. Among the concerns noted in the letter from ACSM is the fact that the ExpressMap process cannot truly serve as a comparable alternative to the ALTA/ACSM survey. Evidence supporting this position includes the ALTA/ACSM survey requirement that surveyors must show physical features with five feet on each side of boundary lines on the plat, as well as evidence of unrecorded easements. These matters can affect title, but cannot be addressed by the ExpressMap service.

First American has samples of the products it can provide on its website at www.fatcoboundaries.com. Stated on each of the sample products is: “This map is not a survey of the land depicted thereon. It is a compilation of data by First American Title Insurance Company for use by First American only. This map should not be used or relied upon for any purpose other than that stated in this paragraph. First American expressly disclaims any duty, responsibility, or liability which may arise by use of this map other than for the purpose stated in this paragraph.” So clearly, First American is not claiming that these maps represent surveys, but will the average client understand this? Inspection of the bearings and distances shown on the examples reveals that one of them doesn’t even result in a “properly closed” boundary, a must for surveyors’ plats. This further brings into question the validity of an ExpressMap, even for making meaningful insurance underwriting decisions. Sumner said the company “falls short of full disclosure by not explaining that because ExpressMap is not a survey, its ability to adequately address even those matters it purports to address is limited.” And even though First American states that it is not practicing surveying, in some states (First American claims to be able to produce ExpressMap service in all 50) its activities may fall under the states’ definitions of surveying. The promotional materials for ExpressMap indicate that “boundary analysis” is conducted. While a review of boundary information may be possible during the process, boundary analysis cannot be done unless a survey is properly and completely performed.

But First American claims that this is simply a tool used for title insurance underwriting decisions. Sumner agrees that this is true in a sense, and says that ACSM has no problem with them choosing whatever means they wish_for this purpose. “The problem is that those decisions will affect the consumer who ultimately pays for the product, and the consumer doesn’t know that true property line/title exception relationships cannot possibly be ascertained using ExpressMap because it does not have the ability to accurately define them,” Sumner said.

Surveyors are also upset because title insurers often request that a surveyor complete an ALTA/ACSM survey in just a few days for a price much lower than what the job is worth. With ExpressMap, First American promises to complete the survey for less cost than an ALTA survey and in less time. Sumner questioned whether First American has actual statistics to support this claim, based on a factual comparison of the scope of services to be provided. When one surveyor called to request a quote, he was quoted $3,000 minimum for a fly-over and at least a three-week time frame. Sumner noted the interesting fact that surveyors are typically pressured to complete an ALTA/ACSM survey in less time than three weeks from the date of order, not after all title exception documents have been provided to the surveyor.

The root of the ACSM comments is that the surveying profession is licensed by the 50 states as a means of protecting the public welfare. Any activity that potentially undermines this concept such as ExpressMap, can at the very least wrongly influence the public’s perception of whether this protection is being provided to them.

The full content of the ACSM letter and comments can be reviewed on the ACSM website at www.acsm.net. ACSM is currently waiting for a response from First American and will post updates regarding ExpressMap to the ACSM website as well.

Antarctic Mountain Reaches New Height

The correct height of Mount Shinn, the third highest mountain in Antarctica, has finally been accurately measured for the first time. Australian mountaineer and author, Damien Gildea, and his Chilean climbing partner, Rodrigo Fica, measured the peak just after midnight on Dec. 1, 2002.

The original USGS surveys completed in 1963 and 1979 did not result in a published height figure for Mount Shinn. It was simply described as “...a mountain over 4,800 m.” Given that the heights of Vinson and Tyree (neighboring peaks) had been found to be lower than they were originally thought to be after the 1979 resurvey, Gildea surmised that Shinn would also be lower.

Previous to climbing Mt. Shinn, Gildea climbed mountains in Tibet, Bolivia, Denali in Alaska and even Vinson Massif (4,897 m), the highest mountain in Antarctica. Gildea was also a member of an expedition, albeit unsuccessful, to measure Shinn’s height last year. Although the climbers managed to traverse to within 100 meters of the summit they were forced to descend because of severe storms and dangerous ice conditions.

This year’s attempt was no walk in the park either. “The climb was harder and steeper than I had imagined—mostly 50 degree angles, with some sections having a slope of ±60 degrees and danger at the top from unstable ice—and the downclimb from the summit was one of the scariest things I have done,” Gildea said. “Weak snow and ice on a 60? slope [made the climb down extremely difficult]. If you fell off at the top, you would fall about 5,000 ft.”

After a seven-hour climb from their high camp at 3,800 m, Gildea and Fica reached the summit. To reach the high camp took about a week, Gildea said, allowing plenty of time for bad weather and acclimatization. Gildea used a satellite phone to send data from his Trimble GPS Total Station 5700 (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.) and laptop computer to Geoscience Australia’s online GPS processing system, AUSPOS. According to Gildea, a satellite phone looks like a circa 1980s cell phone—it is a special handset used to connect to the Iridium satellite network, which uses 66 satellites to provide the only commercial satellite and phone coverage south of 80? latitude. AUSPOS is a free online GPS processing service of Geoscience Australia that automatically computes accurate coordinates to international standards from GPS data files submitted over the Internet. AUSPOS has similar capabilities as OPUS, but AUSPOS works anywhere on Earth.

After descending to his base camp, Damien received an E-mail from AUSPOS with the correct height of Mount Shinn, which is 4,660.5 meters above sea level. The new height means Mt. Shinn is only slightly higher than nearby Mt. Craddock at 4,650 meters.

African School Named for Surveyor

In January of 2003, the first-ever secondary school in a small village near Dumasi, Malawi, in central Africa opened its doors. The school is called "Amayi (Mama) Debi Naybor's House" in thanks for fund raising by New York land surveyor Deborah Naybor, PLS, PC. Speeches and slide shows Naybor gave to local civic groups raised over $2,000 to build the two-room schoolhouse that will provide an education for 80 7th through 12th grade students per year.

Naybor made her first trip to Africa after becoming acquainted with Joyce Banda, a Malawi woman and the 1998 World Peace Prize winner. Banda extended an invitation to Naybor to visit Malawi and in November of 2000, she accepted and has visited several times since.

During her visits, Naybor has supported an orphanage in the village by providing clothes and medical supplies donated by New York schoolchildren. She once thought that she might retire in Malawi; now she sees that she can do more good by staying in the United States. For around $400 American dollars a month she provides daycare and one meal a day for 54 orphans, employment for 10 full-time people as well as supplies such as clothing, blankets, etc.

On her third visit to the village in October 2002, Naybor was made an honorary member of the local clan and granted a piece of land on which to build a home, “because you have done so much,” said the village elders.

Naybor hopes to raise funds to build a small clinic in the village this year as the nearest one is almost 20 miles away and local villagers must walk the distance to get aid.

Naybor is involved with helping women and children in Uganda, Malawi and South Africa to build better lives for themselves in other ways as well. One way she does this is by teaching local African women surveying methods, a skill that will make them more employable. “I don’t give hand outs but I do give a hand up to people who are looking for ways to improve the future for themselves and their families. I’ve been able to focus on one village at a time and make a big difference to hundreds of people in just a couple of years,” Naybor said.

Lewis and Clark: A 3D Perspective

A new suite of gaming and simulation techniques available at www.davidrumsey.com/gis/3d.htm gives Web-based GIS and map enthusiasts the unique opportunity to fly-through and interact with late 1800s maps of some of the western United States’ most scenic and dynamic landscapes: Yosemite Valley, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles, as well as the territory covered by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“Our gaming tools add a new twist to 3D Web GIS,” said David Rumsey, president of Cartography Associates, the company that supports the David Rumsey website. “The realism and sense of playfulness typically experienced with virtual reality and simulation technology is now possible with a Web-browser based GIS.”

A 3D mosaic of Lewis and Clark’s legendary early 1800s expedition of the Western territory of the U.S. is featured along with the new 3D California datasets. Launching the 3D map viewer is simple. Once the full 3D map file is downloaded to the user’s desktop, he or she can move through the map at varying speeds and angles, stopping to inspect various points. “The Lewis and Clark mosaic allows students and teachers to visually experience maps that detail the topography and changing landscape along the expedition route, over a period of about 100 years, and compare those changes with current geospatial information,” Rumsey said.

Over 30 maps of the expedition area were recently added to Rumsey’s online GIS collection, including pre-voyage and journey maps, and Lewis’ original 1814 map of the team’s routes. Together, the 2D GIS maps and the 3D mosaic give visitors an opportunity to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the famous journey through a rich combination of history and modern-day mapping technologies.

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.