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As civil engineers and surveyors, there are many aspects of our daily jobs that are second nature to us. But we hear common questions about our field often from the public. In this “Did You Know” blog series, we’ll answer some of these questions.
At first thought, accuracy and precision may sound like they are pretty much the same thing. But to surveyors, they are actually quite different. Accuracy refers to how closely a measurement or observation comes to measuring a true value, while precision refers to how closely repeated measurements or observations come to duplicating measured or observed values.
We perform many boundary surveys and are often faced with the question, “Is a boundary survey accurate if all field measurements are located with a high degree of precision?” The answer may surprise you, because it is not a simple “Yes” or “No”; the correct answer is, “Sometimes.”
While precise measurements of property corners, fences, driveways, buildings and improvements located on a piece of property obtained during a boundary survey are crucial elements necessary to prepare an accurate survey, precise measurements alone will not guarantee an accurate boundary survey.
We live in an era where everyone is in a hurry, always seeking the quickest way to accomplish day to day tasks and activities. Surveyors too, fall into this category of attempting to find software and equipment to help us be more efficient on a daily basis while continuing to maintain the ability to provide accurate boundary surveys to the public.
Manufacturers of today’s technology, such as GPS, laser scanning, drones and CAD, strive to lead the industry with the highest precision specifications to increase or dominate sales. However, manufacturers do not advertise or sell two key elements necessary to conduct an accurate boundary survey: experience and knowledge of property rights. A surveyor’s experience is required to determine the parameters of the equipment used as well as areas where the equipment should or should not be used. The surveyor’s knowledge of property rights is necessary to compile the information measured and collected from field locations to determine the current property boundaries and property rights of owners. This means that the increased precision of measurements available in today’s surveying equipment alone will not increase the number of accurate surveys. An increase in accurate surveys is the responsibility of experienced and knowledgeable surveyors.
To illustrate this point in another way, think about the prevalence of GPS in today’s society. It is now used to help navigate planes, automobiles and ships for commercial travel. GPS has become such a way of life in America that many of us use our smart phones equipped with GPS for daily travel, fishing, hunting and other outings. But while GPS measurements have become more accurate over the past few years, the precise measurements alone will not generate a successful road trip, fishing outing or hunting adventure. GPS is a tool, and if used by an experienced driver, fisherman or hunter, it will aid in accomplishing a successful outing. This is very similar to how GPS and other technology aids experienced surveyors in completing successful surveys.
Ultimately it has become a common misconception that surveying is easier and quicker than it used to be because we utilize GPS on a daily basis. In order for land surveyors to provide an accurate survey that can be used to protect the property rights of owners or assist someone during the development of property, “precise measuring equipment” alone will not be sufficient to accomplish these tasks. Research, experience and knowledge of property rights — the foundation of land surveying — will never be replaced by technology.