Point of Beginning

Editor's Note: Fear factor.

August 25, 2003
As surveying technology branches out to different areas in the public realm, challenges for surveyors increase—as does their fear factor.



The popular reality show titled “Fear Factor” is nothing new to surveyors; it’s been alive in their profession for years. Much of the public has never really known the true job that land surveyors do. Then this awesome new technology called GPS begins to infuse many sectors of society, giving the public an over-simplified idea of location determination. Low-grade GPS becomes an option in cars and the Internet provides a platform for real-time applications like MapQuest. GPS is used to dispatch 911 calls and tracks criminals through GPS wristbands. These are all pretty good uses of GPS technology. But, you folks know the “other side” of GPS: the use of consumer-grade GPS units that give people the “expertise” to do their own land boundary determination.

Surveyors often encounter trouble on a job because their clients—through hiking and boating trips—have come to “know” how to utilize GPS. They tell you where their boundary lines are. They only need you to sign off on the survey. You disagree with their measurements, but you’re wrong because… look here, Mr. Land Surveyor, my system says I own four more feet north. As GPS technology branches out to different areas in the public realm (and who knows where it will be used next), challenges for surveyors increase—as does their fear factor.

This “GPS in a box” is but one example of technology use gone amok. In recent years, though, surveyors are seeing others, namely GIS practitioners encroaching on their turf. There is a general distrust from some surveyors about the accuracy of GIS data and a sense of resentment that GIS-ers view them as “just boundary guys.” So, a rivalry of sorts has been created between the professions. But one thing is evident: surveyors tend to peek around the corner more to pay attention to GIS issues and to see where and how they fit in. My hope is that GIS-ers will absorb the validity and necessity of surveying work, too.

Well, a pocket of caretakers is attempting to remedy the situation before the mole hill becomes a mountain. These folk are trying to “bridge the gap” instead of enhancing the “fear factor.”

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) has recognized that an overlap of responsibilities among GIS and surveying professionals is not new in the development of a new system of operation, for instance, a database containing survey accurate data for use in a GIS. NCEES continues to revise the Model Law and evaluate new recommendations to overcome any questionable areas that each professional is to perform. ESRI of Redlands, Calif., held its inaugural Survey and GIS Summit in July to recognize the feasibility and benefits of integrating surveying and GIS data. ESRI’s view is that the Summit was necessary as the surveying and GIS “industries become more integrated and… [those involved] work on interoperability issues with a shared purpose.”

Only time will tell if and how the two professions will coexist. But, my hope is that the “fear factor” will diminish or die altogether, and that professionals, the public and all clients will reap great advantages from a reputable and collaborative effort between surveyors and GIS-ers.