I had nearly completed this month’s column when news broke of Japan’s earthquake and the resulting tsunami. I happened to be out of town that week and spent most of that Friday watching the non-stop TV coverage with family. Just like you, we were astounded by the devastation we were watching. One comment that summed up our feelings was that this seemed like something from a Hollywood movie where the director takes things just a little too far. However, this was Mother Nature expressing her brutal side while we watched in near real-time HD. By the time you read this we will likely know the death toll and scope of the destruction, but at the moment the breadth of this event seems to expand each time I see or hear the news.

My initial column was centered on the idea of dichotomies, in particular the differing and opposing points of view we often have in the profession. After the events in Japan I wanted to rewrite the column, but I believe the idea of dichotomy may still be applicable.

While discussing the disasters with my wife at the time and writing about it now, I think they seem to require a steady flow of superlatives: overwhelming, stupefying, horrifying, heartbreaking. Like other events during the last several years, it truly is a tragedy of epic proportions. To add to the catastrophe, it happened at a time when the world is greatly weakened economically, and several regions are in a tense state of political upheaval.

As I watched some of the videos coming out of Japan, I saw portions of towns, whole communities, literally washed completely away. The Japanese—indeed much of the world—has a huge tragedy to endure, which I’m sure they will. With time and resilience, they will eventually overcome this and begin to recover, both emotionally and physically. And when that physical recovery begins, who will play a critical role? Surveyors, of course.

With the destruction nearly total in some areas, how will reconstruction begin? Where will it begin? Who owned what, and where was it located on the face of the Earth? The shape of the island nation may have changed in some areas; indeed some reports indicate parts of the main island shifted as much as eight feet (identified by GPS). All of these questions can, at least in part, be answered by the surveyor. For many survivors, their land may be the only physical possession they have left. And the surveyor is the only one who can tell them where it is.

The situation in Japan is, in some ways, similar to the situation in the United States regarding the fallout from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. By coincidence, we are running a story this month about a firm, R.C. Goodwin, that has strong ties to New Orleans and per-formed survey functions in the city immediately following those hurricanes. I suspect they were not the only firm playing a critical role in that situation, and that survey efforts related to the recovery are still on-going.

I’m not familiar with land ownership in Japan, but if it’s anything like what we have in the United States, their land can provide a sense of “rootedness” and hope for the future. Our system of land ownership provides a foundation for personal freedom and economic empowerment in America, and the land surveyor plays a key role in supporting that system. This function lies at the heart of land surveying, but I think we sometimes lose sight of its importance. Not only must we retain sight of our importance, we must convey it clearly, confidently, and convincingly to the public. For it is together that we establish our regard as professionals.

About the Author

  • TJ Frazier, LS
    TJ Frazier, LS
    TJ Frazier is the magazine's editor for surveying and has more than 20 years experience in the surveying profession, currently as senior land surveyor for VanMar Associates in Mt. Airy, Md. He also worked in survey equipment sales for Loyola Spatial Systems, now part of Leica Geosystems. He earned a bachelor of sciences degree in business at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. He is married and has two daughters. Frazier can be reached at tj@profsurv.com.

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