Surveyors and Surveying: Fit for Purpose

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series July 2013

“Fit for purpose” is a phrase I’m hearing about with increasing frequency. I’d strongly suggest that you, my fellow surveyors, begin to pay attention to it. Here’s why.

In the May issue I wrote about a recent situation that occurred in Virginia where two counties had decided to define their common boundary through a “GIS map” that had little, if anything, to do with a ground survey. The decision was on the desk of the governor who was ready to sign it. Fortunately, at the last minute the Virginia Association of Surveyors was able to add language making the process more likely to create a line that conforms to the true boundary.  

The story caught the attention of our former contributor Al Butler, a GIS professional with the city of Ocoee, Florida. Al noted that in a previous position he had worked with communities in Tennessee that were already defining boundaries with GIS maps and that the effort had the support of the local surveying community.  

Al told me how the governmental authorities had worked together with local surveyors to design a fit-for-purpose model that preserved many of the elements that were important to surveyors, such as recovery of and accurately positioning reference monuments that were still in existence, while providing local governments with the flexibility of defining the location of the boundaries that met their numerous and diverse needs that did not require positions to a few centimeters.

Subsequently, in a recent visit to the online forum at I came across a thread titled “Surveying Predictions.” Frank Willis, a surveyor from Alexandria, Louisiana, wrote: “The use of VRS tied to state plane, and the other fancy things will cause certain groups to lobby politicians to attempt a change in boundary surveying procedures so that anybody can do it because of all of the simplicity in obtaining accuracy, and we will have a harder and harder time explaining to the public that there is more to boundaries than precision.”

Mr. Willis hit it right on the head. This is happening and will likely continue to happen at an increasing rate.  

Federal, state, county, and local governments are increasingly relying on the products and services provided by their respective GIS professionals as a valuable tool to manage their limited resources and to provide better services to the communities they serve. Regrettably, these officials are seldom aware of the issues that continue to plague accurate boundary determination in this country.

If we, the surveying community, do not step up and aggressively address these issues, in all likelihood what almost happened in Virginia will occur in many other communities. Surveyors as individuals and as part of active local, state, and national professional associations must be engaged as partners and leaders with all levels of government working towards managing these efforts to support the public interest, or Mr. Willis’ predication may become fact.


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