Point of Beginning

Letters to the Editor

November 21, 2003
POB readers sound off on topics from recent issues of the magazine.

Viewpoint
August 2003

I enjoyed [Bill Beardslee's] article and could not agree more. I too am a transprofessional and I find it as challenging in the surveying profession, if not more so, as in the engineering [field to practice] with a level of ethical confidence. Engineering and surveying practice has transformed in the past two decades from a manual production to electronic. I pride myself at having been involved in this transformation. The surveying profession has for the most part taken the lead in this transformation. Surveyors have always been astute [when it comes] to calculators, electronics and advanced ways of conducting their work. Surveying professionals are further challenged by the need to not only keep up with office technology in plans production but also with field technology in data gathering. Technology may have created a less labor intensive environment, while at the same time creating new specialty areas [that] the profession has taken under its wing: e.g. GPS, GIS, LiDAR, SUE, robotics, etc. However, there remains the need for field personnel to wield a bush axe and endure the elements.

There should not be a reduction in the educational, experience and continuing education requirements for practicing surveying. Instead, we need to look at broadening these requirements.

In my career I have also observed engineering and surveying continuing to diverge in their requirements, both educationally and in professional practice. I agree with Bill that it has also diverged in the salary scale. This is a tragedy on both accords. I am appalled that most civil engineering curriculums have dropped surveying in any sense of the word. How is an engineer to understand metes and bounds, boundary data and base mapping data? I taught surveying courses within a civil engineering program for [more than] four years and I dare say few people that graduated with this background can say they never used most of the information presented to them. I continue to fight to get this program reinstated at our local universities.

I pray that the surveying profession steps up and not only declares itself an equal profession to engineering but practices as an equal. This I hope for all of you, like me, who have offspring [including] two of my sons who have shown interest in this profession.

Thomas R. Hepler, PE, PLS

Raleigh, N.C.

Put me down as agreeing 110 percent. In addition to being such great consumer advocates by keeping fees low, land surveyors allow "scope creep" to further erode fees. Surveyors are now tasked with providing a plethora of extraneous information on plats that requires many extra hours of research and writing-inquiries regarding underground utilities, historical and archaeological matters, wetlands, toxic waste, landscaping, etc. Increasingly detailed municipal ordinances spelling out a multitude of plat minutiae often results in one or two (or more) pages of comments for even the simplest plats from the non-PLS planning staff and municipal "engineer," causing the surveyor even more hours of work that he may well do for free.

Given the amount of work out there-and there is lots of it-compare the number of pages of surveyors vs. lawyers in any local yellow pages and ask this question: Why don't surveyors come to work in pin-striped suits? And why are we still debating the topic of Beardslee's article?

Bill Roth

West Homestead, Pa.

A Step Ahead
September 2003

I was interested to see the article on the use of cell phones for RTK GPS. The Oregon DOT has also secured this capability in an effort to get "a step ahead" of equipment budget cuts and decreased staffing, while the workload continues to climb and the legislature passes dedicated funding for massive transportation improvements. There is plenty of money to design and build a project, but we have to do it with the staff and primary equipment we have.

Our history is very similar to that described in the article. We too have Leica System 500 receivers and have been using radio RTK for some time. And as described by Mr. Licht, there are myriad advantages to the cell [phone] option, at least in theory. Our staff has experienced many of these advantages and everyone is really pleased with the operation. One of the huge benefits is that we can place a base station in a "safe" location, such as one of our own facilities or that of a local agency, and not have to have a staff member stand guard over the equipment.

However, unlike the experience of Loucks Associates, we have put the cell phones back in the box and are attempting to cancel the contract on our data cell phone service. What we have learned is that the system works well, when and where it works. But it is unusable so much of the time, that we can no longer afford to plan a project based on using cell phone RTK.

We knew going in that much of the highway system in our 135,000 square miles of mostly rural and remote land in the state would not have the service available, at least for now. However, to our disappointment, and that of other practitioners in our state who share our experience, we have learned that the service is active less than 50 percent of the time, even in the urban areas where we do have coverage. We have planned surveys in our most urban areas based on the existence of coverage only to find that for a day or two or three, or maybe for a week after we begin, there is no service available.

Then it will come back for a while, then be gone again. Numerous conversations with the service supplier have netted us nothing. As a result, we have yet to complete a project using this technique. We begin a project using it and then lose service and have to either wait who-knows-how-long for service to return or revert back to the radios. The former option leaves us hanging, totally unable to control either cost or schedule. The latter option means added crew time in setting additional base stations and having most of them in [less than] desirable locations, but at least we can predict time and budget.

The consensus of our staff and leadership seems to be leaning toward discarding the entire cell phone notion for a while. We all know that technology is constantly marching forward, so it is certain that this or something similar will become functional in the near future. But for now, it is back to the radios and all of the shortcomings (and certainties) associated with them.

David Artman, PLS

Salem, Ore.

A Leica representative responds:

Many of the Oregon DOT problems have been caused by a weakness in the cellular coverage and cellular providers in their area. As [Mr. Artman] said, the technology and the theory is great, and in many areas of the country it works very well. For whatever reason the cellular providers in Oregon seem to be a bit behind the times. Unfortunately, this is not something we can do anything about. I'm sure it will improve over time.