As surveyors we confront challenging conditions and situations on a regular basis.  This is particularly true given the trying economic times we’re facing, but in many ways it’s simply part of what we do.

Adversity comes in many colors and forms.  It can be the deep green of a mid-summer’s poison oak or the reddish-purple of a livid neighbor’s face.  It can be the dusty brown of a dry, dangerous construction site or the faded black ink of a hand-written metes and bounds description from the 1800s. The list is without end.

Adversity even forms the basis of one of our more interesting and controversial legal principles:adverse possession.  The adversity involved here has its characteristics defined for us.  In general, to gain title the possession must be: actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under a claim of ownership, and for a specified period of time.  Property owners often seem to think this is a simple solution to their boundary conflicts, but surveyors know it is never that easy.

It is normal to complain about the situations we encounter and the struggles we face.  Many times, the challenges are legitimate and an adversity must be overcome.  But these things are relative, and if we pause to look at the bigger picture or put things in context, these challenges are sometimes not so challenging as we first imagined. And sometimes adversity can even be turned into opportunity.

This month we have two features that, in part, present a picture of adversity.  And, though there is an indirect connection between them, in how the situations came to be, they involve two very different but very hostile environments.

Our cover story comes from Teresa Smithson, a soft-spoken—yet confident— female surveyor working alongside our armed forces in Afghanistan.  Though initially hesitant to tell her story, she strongly believes her efforts help make a difference in the lives of Afghans.  As a woman, she confronts a somewhat unique adversity on three fronts daily: in the male-dominated field of surveying, in the male-dominated environment of the military, and in a male-dominated, Muslim society.  She shares with us what her and her compatriots’ lives are like these days in that part of the world—a stark and violent world few of us will ever know.  In the face of all of that, Teresa has a very forward-looking, refreshing perspective on the evolving role of the surveyor.

And Frank Hahnel, in the final installment of his personal account of his activities following 9/11, shows us a glimpse of the heart-wrenching work he encountered during the clean-up and recovery efforts in New York City.  Even though all of his post-9/11 experiences were brief, they made a lasting impact on Frank that he is only now sharing with the rest of us.  These experiences have a number of strong ironies—some very dark—not the least of which is applying cutting-edge technology to a most unpleasant and gruesome task.

We all know life’s not easy, nor is surveying.  As they say, if it were easy anybody could do it.  But it’s nice to be reminded from time to time of the blessings we have and to be able to learn from those who have turned adversity to their advantage.  In Teresa’s case, rather than remain timid and have her team limited only to the role surveyors are “expected” to play, she has positioned herself as a leader, both for her team, and in some respects, for the profession.  And Frank has turned his regard and interest for the military and law enforcement into a prominent role of using cutting-edge laser scanning in forensics applications.  In the end, it’s all relative.

~ TJ

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

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