Exclusive Report from the FIG Working Week in Orlando

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This year’s gathering of the International Federation of Surveyors (Federation Internationale des Geometres, or FIG) was held in Orlando, Florida, USA. If you call it by the initials, say F-I-G, not ‘fig’, or you’ll look like a newbie.  I learned the hard way, but Trish Milburn, the NSPS office manager, set me straight while I was getting registered.  This is the first time in some twenty years that the FIG Working Week has been in the United States.  This was also my first time attending an FIG event.  FIG is truly an international organization so the annual gathering skips from continent to continent each year.  Next year it will be in Accra, Ghana, Africa, followed by Brisbane, Australia in 2025.

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My first impressions of the conference reminded me of the big national conferences we had back in the days of ACSM here in the United States.  I was very impressed with the great conference facility, historic survey tool exhibition, and the big exhibitor hall. It was well attended by a national U.S. presence, with over half those attending from other countries. It was nice to make face to face connections with several friends I haven’t seen in years or have never met in person because of the ubiquity of today’s post-covid on-line meetings.

FIG is organized into areas of interest called commissions.  The commission 5 positioning and measurement group is closest aligned to the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) of which I am the State Geodetic Coordinator for in Arizona.  I attended talks mostly revolving around this commission, but there were so many other activities, including several offered in Spanish language because of the high numbers attending from the South American countries.  It was a blast.

At one of the lunch breaks I intentionally sat at a table of people I had never met. I recognized bits and pieces of the Afrikaans they were speaking and was delighted to find that a few of them spoke English. I ended up sitting next to the chief cadastral surveyor for Namibia. There was still a bit of a language barrier, but we had a great conversation as best we could. I was impressed to see how professional and capable our overseas counterparts are.

The conference overall was great. From the NASA talks we had at plenary sessions to the all day presenting by our own NGS on Wednesday for #NGS@FIG day.  The NGS day started with an address from Juliana Blackwell, the NGS director and was followed by all day content including CORS talks from John Galetzka and field operation segments from Kevin Jordan and Ryan Hippenstiel to name a very few.  There were close to thirty NGS’ers in total attending and many also presented.  In one of Hippenstiel’s slides he talked about the big ‘M’ of NSRS modernization and also the little ‘m’ of modernization.  The big ‘M’ is obvious, the new datum realization set to be released in mid-2025.  The little ‘m’ may be less obvious, but has potentially even greater importance. NGS is an agency of only about 170 people.  Galetzka mentioned that in 2020 when he took over the CORS Branch, now named the Geodetic Infrastructure Branch, it was made up of only five, very tired and worn out members.  It’s now doubled in size, found new energy and John’s helped breathe an entire new life into that team thanks to his army ranger can-do spirit that you can’t help but see beaming out of him from across the room.  Ryan Hippenstiel also shines with a fresh energy and hails formerly from a forest service cadastral survey background in my home state of Arizona.  Ryan worked on untold miles of forest boundary before he took up leadership of the Field Operations branch out of Chesapeake, Virginia for NGS, and there’s many more stories like this from within the agency as it has been benefiting from Blackwell’s little ‘m’ modernizing over the years.

Lynda Bell – NOAA-NGS Regional Geodetic Advisor

Lynda Bell, has been awarded the Alaska Regional Advisor-ship and will be transferred from the AZ-NM-UT region to Alaska on June 19, 2023.  Before her departure the three State Geodetic Coordinators, Brian Fisher (AZ), Barry Phillips (NM) and Sean Fernandez (UT) pitched in together on a collaborative design to honor her and thank her for her two years of service in our arid desert region.  It’s been a short time for her in the desert southwest, but she’s done a tremendous amount in all three states advising and helping prepare for the big ‘M’ of datum modernization after 2025.  Bell’s transfer from one region to another is one of the many little ‘m’ modernizations going on within NGS.  Like with any organization, internal restructuring can usher in improvements.   Lynda has a ton of coastal experience and that was a somewhat untapped resource in our land locked part of the world.  The framed award is a custom stamped brass cap with all the initials of the state’s geospatial and surveying organizations along with her name, job title, and years of service.  The three state boundaries are also displayed with southwest colors she’ll soon be missing in the great white north of her new posting.  This is but a very small token of appreciation and we wish her the best of success in the years to come.

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Diane Dumashie, FIG’s newly elected president for the next four years, led the conference. In our final meeting, the General Assembly, where each national delegate is seated behind a foam core name plate with their flag and organization name, we all voted on approving commission reports and the 2027 venue vote result was also announced. It was a three hour meeting, but the time flew by as there was so much exciting information being shared. The Young Surveyors Network (YSN) originated in FIG.  It is taking root in the U.S. through NSPS and really starting to grow in each state, but there is activity from all over the world happening.  Several international YSN members gave speeches about their burgeoning careers.  The conclusion of the General Assembly included a presentation of the FIG flag from the current host nation to the next. The U.S. NSPS Executive Director, Timothy Burch handed over the flag to the Ghanaian delegation.  There was a stream of over a hundred people made up of what looked like surveyors including also their family and friends, all dressed in incredibly colorful traditional African regalia.

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So what was my biggest take away from this conference for me? I don’t think it was modernization with a big ‘M’, the new datum, the latest upgrade to the amazing drones we have on land, sea and air, software embedded with AI and digital twins of every surface, pathway, building, wire and pipeline. My biggest take away was all the little ‘m’ connections that I made.  The little ‘m’ of the YSN, growing from within our profession and having a chance to talk to Jordyn Hjeldness, the NSPS North Dakota YSN Coordinator. The little ‘m’ of me getting to meet face to face with NSPS CST board members Norman Ellerbrock and Don Falken.  We started a dialog about how AAGS can help expand their CST testing and training materials to include more geodesy.  The little ‘m’ of putting in perspective the place the survey industry has within a global socioeconomic engine challenged by supply chain, labor shortages, and climatological impacts. One of the NASA slides was the view of our Earth from the surface of Mars.  In this perspective the entire Earth, the home to all humanity, is but a few pixels of white in an endless sea of black.  The small ‘m’ of modernization may too look like only a few pixels in the big ‘M’ picture of modernization, but the small ‘m’, the people and the working relationships between them, is where the magic really happens.  It really was a pleasure and an honor to get the opportunity, not just to attend the FIG Working Week, but also, in my small part, contribute to the event.  For that, I am immensely thankful.

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Berntsen Commemorative Medallion

Collectibles CDFIG23marker Web

Be a part of history with Berntsen’s exclusive 2023 FIG Working Week custom medallion! Order yours now and treasure the memories forever.

For a limited time, Berntsen is offering a commemorative medallion. Berntsen’s exclusive 3 1/4 inch brass medallion is specially designed to celebrate the 2023 FIG Working Week event. In addition, a portion of each medallion’s sale will be donated to the FIG Young Surveyors Network.

This medallion will only be on sale May 22-June 16, 2023.

source – https://amerisurv.com/2023/06/10/exclusive-report-from-the-fig-working-week-in-orlando/

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