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NYS ITS GIS Program Office

Geographic Information Systems Clearinghouse

Licensed Surveying & Geospatial Technology:
Complementary, Not Incompatible

By Ann K. Deakin, Ph.D

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination or the State of New York.

Author’s Note: This article is an abridgement of two earlier articles by the author: “Debating the Boundary between Geospatial Technology and Licensed Land Survey,” which appeared in the March 2008 issue of Surveying and Land Information Science (68(1):5-14), and “Geospatial Technology & Its Role in Land Surveying,” which appeared in the August 2008 issue of ACSM Bulletin (234:16-18,20).Land Survey

There are few states that have experienced the ongoing debate over the use of geospatial technology in the context of land surveying as acutely as New York. Currently, proposed changes to New York State’s Education Law relative to the practice of land surveying in light of technological advances are in the Higher Education Committee of the New York State Senate (Bill-S1776). The geospatial community is concerned that the proposed language is so vague it will limit much of the work they currently do. Similarly, many surveyors are concerned about the necessity and practicality of broadening the definition of the practice of land surveying to the point where most geospatial work will require a licensed surveyor to either conduct the work or at least supervise it. At first glance, it might appear that the technology is the root of the problem. Certainly technology may have changed the work flow in land surveying and most other professions. It is, however, important to remember that technology hasn’t changed the legal requirements for certified survey projects. What is really at issue is a need for clarification and specificity in light of the fact that technology may change the way the end product is reached. Anyone can access the technology, but only licensed surveyors can make or document original measurements in the creation of certified survey products.

Like Alabama, California, North Carolina and other states, New York’s proposed legislation uses most of the language in the NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) Model Law. (The NCEES Model Law provides a point of reference for states when preparing amendments to existing laws or new proposed laws.) The Model Law’s definition is broad in its description of activities that are considered part of the practice of surveying (NCEES 2007a, Section 110.20 B.4, 3-4), but it is not an openended list of activities and includes a “Cross Reference” in its Appendix A, referring the reader to a set of Model Rules. The Model Rules provide specific inclusions and exclusions to the definition of the “Practice of Surveying,” the purpose of which is “…to ensure the protection of the public by ensuring the proper performance of the duties of the board of licensure…” (NCEES 2007b, p. 1).

In the case of the definition of surveying, Section 210.25 of the Model Rules makes it quite clear that it is the final product that determines whether an activity is included or excluded in the list of tasks that require licensure. The NCEES’s clarification dates back to the mid-1990s when it revised the Model Law in response to changes in the surveying profession based on technological advances. “A distinction must be made in the use of electronic systems between making or documenting original measurements in the creation of survey products, versus the copying, interpretation, or representation of those measurements in such systems.” (NCEES 2007b, 3-5). For example, maps and georeferenced databases that are provided as a survey product representing authoritative locations for boundaries, the location of fixed works, or topography are activities that must be conducted by a licensed surveyor. Maps that do not define real property boundaries are, however, excluded from surveying practice.

Although Oregon does not specifically reference the Model Rules in its statutes, it does include a list of exceptions to the applications of Oregon Revised Statutes 672.002 (Definitions for ORS 672.002 to 672.325) and 672.325 (Civil Penalties). These exceptions were based on an ASPRS (American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing) sponsored national taskforce to the NCEES. Like the NCEES Model Rules, the common element running through the list is whether or not real property boundaries will be represented. If they’re not, then the person carrying out the activity does not need to be a licensed surveyor. Oregon is, however, an exception itself. Most states that base their statutes on the NCEES Model Law do not include any exceptions. The surveyors lobbying to broaden the definition of their work believe that a certain level of trust between the geospatial community and the state boards should be assumed. And, they don’t believe state lawmakers want to legislate the practice of surveying to that level of detail. The alternative, though, is to leave the door wide open to potential litigation.

The issue then is a matter of tightening the legislative language. When writing legislation it is, of course, easiest to add “but not limited to”, “such as”, or other similar language in an effort to leave the door open for other activities that haven’t yet occurred to anyone. It should come as no surprise that such open-ended language makes those in the geospatial community nervous and, frankly, it could make someone in any profession nervous. It seems ludicrous that someone could be accused of practicing surveying without a license for making a map for visitors to your home, but the potential is there. Why not limit these lists now? The NCEES has provided the Model Rules and Oregon has developed a list of exceptions in an effort to clarify the relationship between surveying, GIS and photogrammetry. New York, and other states proposing amendments to their legislation, would not have to use either of these in their entirety, but could use them as a starting point for their own lists of inclusions and exclusions. Such an effort would bring both the geospatial and surveying communities together to discuss what activities should fall within the domain of licensed surveying.

It is interesting to note that most states do not use the language in either the Model Law or Model Rules in their definitions of the practice of land surveying, and, thus far, have not felt the need to do so, the technology notwithstanding. These states typically define surveying solely in terms of real property, which transcends the issue of technology. Missouri actually goes so far as to state that, “None of the specific duties listed…are exclusive to professional land surveyors unless they affect real property rights.” (Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 327, Section 327.272.2) Other states defining the practice of land surveying solely in terms of real property, such as Nevada, will occasionally include a specific exclusion regarding surveys for geological or landscaping purposes, or aerial photographs or photogrammetry. Illinois makes an exception “when the level of accuracy required is less than the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping-designated Classes of Surveying.” (Illinois Professional Land Surveyor Act of 1989, Section 5.b) Some states’ definitions of surveying make specific reference to GIS, LIS (land information systems), GPS, photogrammetry and/or computerized data, but only as these tools and methods apply to boundary control in the context of real property rights. They are not proprietary to the practice of land surveying.

The irony of the debate over geospatial technology and its role in land surveying is the fact that surveyors have played a key role in the development of GPS, one of the cornerstones of geospatial technology. Surveyors were on the leading edge of GPS technology in the 1980s and that leadership is still evident. For example, the surveying profession used the relatively new civil code GPS signal on the L2 frequency more than any other civilian profession (Fosburgh and Peetz 2004). Indeed, anyone who uses GPS should thank the surveying community for making it available beyond military applications! Geospatial technology, while an indispensable tool for many, does not define the surveying profession. The technology, where appropriate, has been an accepted part of surveying for at least 25 years, and the need for licensed surveyors still hasn’t changed. Geospatial technology is really ancillary to the process; it facilitates progress toward the end product, but it doesn’t define it. Use it when it can help and fall back on tried and true methods when it can’t, but don’t let it dictate the profession.

The author gratefully acknowledges Wendy Woodbury Straight, L.S., John Trimber, L.S., J. Peter Borbas, P.L.S., P.P., and William F. Johnson and the other members of the New York State GIS Coordinating Body for the helpful discussions and recommendations.


Submitted by Ann K. Deakin, Ph.D, Geosciences Department, SUNY Fredonia, Ann is an associate professor of geosciences at SUNY Fredonia. She has worked in the geospatial field for 25 years, including as a cartographer for the former Defense Mapping Agency and a project manager for a GIS data conversion firm in San Antonio, Texas.


NYS GIS Data Sharing
Cooperative Still Growing

Membership in the NYS Data Sharing Cooperative has shown a steady increase with more and more governmental entities, not-for-profits, and academic institutions signing the Data Sharing Agreement, allowing each other to share their GIS data sets. The number of Cooperative Members is at the time of this publication an all-time high of 871!

Why Become a Member of the NYS GIS Data Sharing Cooperative?

  • Cooperative members have access to all other members’ data sets at no cost. Therefore, duplication of effort and investment in creating data sets already available from other agencies are minimized.
  • It is becoming increasingly easy for government agencies, citizens, and commercial entities to determine what GIS data sets are available and who is the primary custodian by visiting the Metadata Repository on the GIS Clearinghouse

NYS Streets & NYS Address Points:
An Update

By Cheryl Benjamin

The NYS Office of Cyber Security & Critical Infrastructure Coordination (CSCIC) maintains the NYS Streets and NYS Address Points data sets in partnership with NAVTEQ and its data maintenance team that includes GIS Solutions and Applied Geographics. Data is released quarterly in March, June, September and December on the NYS GIS Clearinghouse at:
A public version of the NYS Streets data is posted annually in March.

The NAVTEQ data maintenance team is currently in a one-year ramp-up transition period. During this time the NAVTEQ team is busy incorporating street alignments that exist in NAVTEQ’s commercial data product into the NYS Streets data set.

Address PointsAdditional Address Points Now Available!
During the transition period, NAVTEQ is also working on combining its Address Points and the NYS Address Points into one statewide file. For the benefit of our data users, during the transition period we are releasing an additional Address Point file we are calling Address Points–NAVTEQ. These points are from NAVTEQ’s commercial product loaded into our NYS data model. There are over 3.8 million points in this data set, however many of these points duplicate our existing 3.1 million NYS Address Points. Until these two data sets are combined, we recommend using both Address Points data sets in a composite locator for geocoding purposes. We have had good geocoding success using a composite locator that cascades from NYS Address Points to Address Points–NAVTEQ and finally to NYS Streets. The Address Points–NAVTEQ data set supplements our NYS Address Points and if you don’t get a match against either Address Point data set, you should still get a match against the NYS Streets address ranges. Please contact Rodger Coryell, ( or 518-474-5212) with technical questions regarding the data or its usage in a composite locator.

Data Maintenance Opportunities
The NYS Streets and NYS Address Points GIS data sets are widely used and keeping these data sets up-to-date benefits all data users while minimizing duplication of data maintenance efforts. CSCIC is very interested in working with County and local governments on maintenance of the Streets and Address Points data, primarily through notification of needed changes to the data sets using the free web-based application, Map Maintenance, Notification & Tracking (MMNT).

MMNT allows authorized local government partners to view the most up-to-date data and submit street, address point and municipal boundary changes affecting their municipality (county, city, town, and village). MMNT is free and is an excellent tool for government offices to communicate address information between each other as well as easily share that information with CSCIC for incorporation into the State's Streets and Address Point data sets. Users only need an Internet connection to access the application.

County and local governments interested in learning more about a potential partnership opportunity to share street and address changes with CSCIC should contact Cheryl Benjamin ( or 518-474-5212). Cheryl will be happy to meet with you and others in your county and local governments to explain the various options for sharing updates, including a demonstration of MMNT, and the mutual benefits from becoming a data maintenance partner.

Submitted by Cheryl Benjamin, NYS Office of Cyber Security & Critical Infrastructure Coordination,


The Annual New York State Geographic Information System (GIS) Conference has become a major GIS professional development opportunity for hundreds of GIS users across the State and has a long standing tradition of providing attendees with an opportunity to meet fellow New Yorkers active in the GIS field, exchange information and real experiences, and seek solutions to geographic data management needs. The conference will commence with a Sunday evening reception, followed by two days of technical presentations by working professionals. The 2010 NYS GIS Conference will be held on October 24-26 at the Saratoga Hilton in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Wednesday, June 23 - Presentation abstracts are due
Wednesday, September 8 - Maps and poster abstracts are due
Friday, September 24 - Discounted hotel room rate period ends
Wednesday, October 6 - Early conference registration with reduced fees ends

More information about the NYS GIS Conference can be found online at:

NOTE: The event is supported primarily through registration fees and sponsorships.

Mastering the Hudson:
A Web-based GIS Approach to Spatial Education

By Mark Becker and Kytt MacManus

Web mapping applications are finding their way into the classroom more than ever before. K-12 educators are starting to incorporate spatially explicit curricula in a number of subjects, and students are responding positively. Although there is a wide availability of spatial data on basic geographic information, as well as advanced social and natural science topics, that information is often difficult to access without advanced technical knowledge. In light of this, the need for effective translation of complex data into easily understandable and usable forms is more pronounced than ever.

The Hudson River watershed is one of the most populated and historically important watershed regions in the United States. Located primarily in New York, but also spanning portions of New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; the watershed encompasses more than 14,000 mi2 of land area and is home to more than 12 million people. The Hudson River begins at Lake Tear of Clouds in the Adirondack mountain range, and stretches southward 315 miles to the New York City harbor. Networks of environmental sensors monitor water conditions and report near real-time measurements from numerous locations throughout the region.

NY Map 1When a group of educators convened for a workshop to develop enhanced spatial curricula for high school students in September of 2009, they needed a platform to explore geographic data that was both robust and intuitive, and was not cost prohibitive. The Hudson River Watershed Mapper ( fit the bill. The Mapper was developed by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University ( with the support of its partners using ESRI ArcInfo. It is published on the ArcServer 9.3.1 Java development platform. This application provides a gateway to environmental data collected by networks of sensors placed throughout the region and NPDES compliance reports hosted by the US EPA.

During the workshop, educator’s made use of custom search tasks that allow users to navigate the watershed by searching for rivers, towns, or school districts of interest. With minimal instruction they were able to navigate to their school district; locate the nearest USGS Stream Gage; use the Mapper’s custom hyperlink tool on the selected gage to launch near real-time observations from the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS); and report the maximum stream flow at their location over the last 30 days. In another exercise, the teacher’s were asked to locate point source water polluters in their town. They navigated to their area of interest with the Search by Town task, and then used the hyperlink tool to launch reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Environmental Interest Profile website for National Pollution Elimination Discharge System (NPDES) permit holders. The reports provided information on the site’s record of compliance; which the teachers were asked to evaluate and report back on.NY Map 2

Additionally, workshop participants viewed an animation produced with ESRI ArcInfo ArcGIS Desktop and served within the application. The animation followed the movement of surface water through USGS Stream Gages during the course of a mammoth storm event in April of 2007 that dumped more than 7 inches of rain in some areas of the watershed. They made use of the custom hyperlink tool as a location specific gateway to near real-time data on the physical profile of the Hudson River as collected by the Beacon Institute’s Rivers and Estuaries Observation Network (REON). They also reviewed forecast information from gage points in the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS). Data provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC) Hudson River Estuary Program informed users on Hudson River characteristics; including sediment and bathymetric profiles of the river.

NY Map 3When the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries ( talked with CIESIN staff about their plans for developing a real-time sensor network for the Hudson River (REON) and creating environmental education curricula based on the Hudson River Watershed, the idea of a Hudson specific online mapping tool was born. As the host of the Northeast Information Node of the USGS National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII-NIN) program (, CIESIN at Columbia University was uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between environmental research and the wider education community. It was this convergence of interests and capabilities that enabled the Hudson River Watershed Mapper to take its shape.

The Hudson River Watershed Mapper is a platform for an evolving network of students, educators, land use managers, and research scientists concerned with understanding and effectively managing the watershed. As a widely accessible resource, the Mapper is intended to support data sharing activities and facilitate collaborations between researchers, managers, and the education community. As mapping applications find their way into classrooms more and more often, it is crucial that all of the geographic information being collected is effectively translated for a wider audience. Such an accomplishment has the potential to transform these next generations into the most spatially aware of all time.

Submitted by Mark Becker, Associate Director Geospatial Application Division, CIESIN, and Kytt MacManus, Geographic Information Specialist, CIESIN,

Editor’s Note: The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) was established in 1989 as an independent non-governmental organization to provide information that would help scientists, decision-makers, and the public better understand the changing relationship between human beings and the environment. In 1998, CIESIN became a center within Columbia University's Earth Institute. From its offices at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campus in Palisades, New York, CIESIN continues to focus on applying state-of-the-art information technology to pressing interdisciplinary data, information, and research problems related to human interactions in the environment.

2010 United States Census Update

By Bob Scardamalia

Look carefully at your mail for the next few weeks. The 2010 Census is coming to your mailbox soon! The Census is required to take place every ten years by our Constitution. It’s the basis for the reapportionment of Congressional seats by state, the redrawing of state and local legislative boundaries, and the distribution of more than $400 billion each year in federal funding. New York stands to lose representation in Washington and much needed funding unless we get as complete and accurate a count as possible. IT’S IMPORTANT! Okay, it’s important for a lot of political and funding issues but why should the GIS community be interested? Two very important reasons – though there are many others – geography and addresses.

Geography – Has anyone used the old TIGER files from the 2000 Census and noticed that they’re a little off (well maybe a lot off!) when compared to aerial photography or any other accurate source? That was because an accurate Census didn’t really depend on spatially accurate roads and features. As long as the Census Bureau placed a housing unit in the correct census block (correct side of the street) , it didn’t matter if the streets where accurately placed on the earth. Times have changed and Census recognized that the use of their data was compromised by not having spatially accurate features. They also learned that GPS could play a vital role in the Census process by locating the physical location of housing units which helped maintain their master inventory of addresses. But that could only work if TIGER features were accurate. For the last five years, Census has worked to update the nation’s geographic base for the 2010 Census and it will be much improved, not perfect, but far better than in 2000. CSCIC and the New York’s GIS Coordinating Body played a big role in making that happen.

Addresses – These days the Census is primarily taken through a mailout-mailback process. It gathers much better data when people can fill out the form in the privacy of their homes and send it back anonymously. In some areas, Census workers deliver the questionnaire to individual units and the residents still send it back in the mail. There’s one data item here that is critical for this process to work and that is a complete file of addresses. These aren’t necessarily mailing addresses because the Census Bureau needs to look at the world differently than the Postal Service. PO boxes don’t work for the Census Bureau – there’s no physical location defined for the housing unit. Rural route boxes may be fine for the postal carrier to deliver mail but they also don’t define location. Cluster boxes for trailer and condo parks don’t define the location of the actual dwelling unit.

Over the last few years Census offered the opportunity for states and local governments to review their confidential address lists and make corrections, additions, and deletions. The program was known as LUCA (Local Update of Census Addresses). New York State participated in the program as did many county and local governments. Using a variety of local sources the participants, collectively, provided the Census Bureau with more than 850,000 addresses as additions. Now we know that a large portion of these addresses were actually in the Census Bureau’s files but could not be matched for a variety of technical reasons. But the effort will undoubtedly add addresses that the Census Bureau would not have otherwise found in their standard operations. We focused on looking for hidden addresses – converted garages, basement/attic apartments, and multiple units at a single mailing address. Keep in mind that the postal service often delivers mail to multiple housing units that all use the same address and don’t distinguish them by using apartment numbers. If the Census Bureau does not have an address in its Master Address File, the risk of it not being counted is extremely high.

When you get your Census form fill it out – completely and accurately. In doing so you will be contributing to a fundamental aspect of our democratic process and you will know that the GIS community in New York State has been working to improve the Census process and obtain a complete and accurate count.

Submitted by Bob Scardamalia, NYS Center for Research and Information Analysis, Department of Economic Development,

GeoSpatial Summit

The NYS GIS Association and the NYS Office of Cyber Security & Critical Infrastructure Coordination are pleased to announce the fifth annual NYS GeoSpatial Summit. This will be another great opportunity to hear the perspectives of top geospatial leaders and network with other GIS professionals. The event is targeted for GIS pro-fessionals who want to look beyond the technical issues and hear what's really shaping GIS in NYS and around the country.

The 2010 NYS GeoSpatial Summit will be held on May 19 at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, NY.

The Pre-Summit evening reception continues to be one of the highlights of the Summit event. This year’s evening reception will be held on the evening of May 18 at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Don't miss this chance to network with our speakers and other Summit attendees.

This year’s speakers include Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap, James Fee, GIS developer, Analyst, Consultant, Provocative blog writer, Chief Evangelist for WeoGeo, and Administrator of Planet Geospatial blog digest, Ted Morgan, President of Skyhook Wireless, Stuart Rich, Principal of Penobscot Bay Media, Nicholas Ray, Member of MIT’s Robust Robotics Group, and Jason Hyon, Chief Technologist for NASA/JPL Earth Science and Technology Directorate.

More information about the NYS GeoSpatial Summit can be found online at:

NOTE: The event is funded entirely through registration fees and the support of the sponsors; no state funds are used.