Articles & Case Studies

Insights from a Land Surveyor: Part II The Power of Having the Right Tool for the Right Job

This article is the second part of a guest post series by an expert land surveyor on his experience using current technologies to manage site photos that inform topographic surveys. In case you missed it, read Part I here!


“Isn’t there a simpler way to manage site photos?”

I’ve asked myself this question countless times since I began working as a land surveyor.

Like I mentioned in my last post, the current technology that most of my colleagues and myself use for mapping site photos requires various workarounds to serve our needs. Such makeshift solutions don’t offer me the ease of use that I need to streamline the topographic survey process.

On top of that, the inevitable human error that’s involved in surveying makes organized, clearly annotated site photos all the more imperative to avoid inaccuracies in our plans.


Ensuring Accurate Topographic Surveys & Plans

One of the many areas where there’s room for human error is in the coding process. Field crews occasionally end up “fat fingering” a field code, meaning they make a typo that causes a “bust” in the line work or symbol generated from the field survey in the CAD drawing. Even something as simple as typing “FJ” instead of “FH” can mean a missing fire hydrant at its location in the plans we develop.

Or the chief may simply forget to change the code in the data collector. Maybe he’s collecting a series of curb shots and then jumps to a gutter shot without changing the code. Unfortunately, even such a small mistake will cause an inaccurate line in the deliverable.

Most of our field crews are very good at what they do, but photography isn’t their strong point. Which makes deciphering site photos and aligning them with the code difficult at times.

When I’ve reviewed site photos our crews have taken, I’ve often found myself asking, “Why did they take this?” and having to call up the chief for an explanation. But if too much time has passed, they don’t necessarily even remember the photo in question!


Improving on Traditional Site Photo Tools

These limitations are some of the reasons why a site photo tool created by land surveyors for land surveyors is appealing to me. Let me share a real life example to better illustrate this need:

I recently worked on an ALTA/NSPS survey for a condominium project in a community 150 miles from where our offices are located. Our field crew ended up collecting about 900 field points and took around 100 photos over 2 days on site for this project.

A few days later when I was in the office reviewing the field points and photos taken on site, I came across one particular close-up of a manhole. I immediately wondered why they had photographed this specific manhole when the site included 15 total—but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

But then when I was reviewing the deliverable before sending it out, I noticed that the sewer line shown on our plan didn’t look right.

When I got the surveyor on the phone and asked him if the collected field point was really a sewer manhole, he explained that he’d taken that particular photo to show me that this specific manhole had a sewer manhole cover when it was actually a storm drain.

Following protocol, the surveyor had collected the point as a sewer manhole cover since that’s how it presented on site. That point was displayed in the CAD drawing with a sewer manhole symbol and used to draft in the sewer line, which meant that our plans were wrong.

Frankly, I got pretty lucky that he was available to answer my question and that he still remembered the site photo. But, more often than not, a field surveyor might forget this incredibly valuable information before it’s incorporated into the plans.

Which would mean a 6-hour roundtrip drive plus the time needed to confirm that the field shot was correct!

Figure 5. Manhole Photo (Without Zia Photo Manager)

Figure 6. Manhole Photo (With Zia Photo Manager)


Building on Decades of Land Surveying Experience

If there’s a question about an existing site condition, I’ve found that a well-documented photo clears it up 99% of the time. And such organized, meticulous records are essential to keep customers happy and avoid litigation. The Zia Photo Manager app easily facilitates this process, storing and sorting photos by date, geographic location, project site, and various manual tags.

We may not have had this kind of technology when I was a kid, but I’m excited to share this new app with my colleagues to better support our industry.

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