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Surveying the Future

New York District
Published July 13, 2022
Updated: July 13, 2022
group of people posing for photo at caven point marine terminal

Survey technicians, cartographic technicians and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) pilots are the boots on the ground for the New York District when it comes to collecting the critical information required by engineers, project planners, and real estate specialists. The Survey Section of the New York District resides within the Operations Support Branch of Operations Division. The teams workload comes from every office in the District when there’s a need for geospatial mapping support. On any given day survey teams are in the field collecting hydrographic and topographic maps to support the delivery of the district’s civil works, military and interagency and international support missions.

group of people posing for photo at caven point marine terminal

Survey technicians, cartographic technicians and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) pilots are the boots on the ground for the New York District when it comes to collecting the critical information required by engineers, project planners, and real estate specialists. The Survey Section of the New York District resides within the Operations Support Branch of Operations Division. The teams workload comes from every office in the District when there’s a need for geospatial mapping support. On any given day survey teams are in the field collecting hydrographic and topographic maps to support the delivery of the district’s civil works, military and interagency and international support missions.

“Building strong” is a motto heard frequently at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), New York District and the foundation for every project built strong is an accurate survey. Coastal storm reduction projects, maintenance and deepening dredging contracts, jetty reconstruction, and vertical construction all have one thing in common, accurate and timely surveys.

Survey technicians, cartographic technicians and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) pilots are the boots on the ground for the New York District when it comes to collecting the critical information required by engineers, project planners, and real estate specialists. The Survey Section of the New York District resides within the Operations Support Branch of Operations Division. The teams workload comes from every office in the District when there’s a need for geospatial mapping support. On any given day survey teams are in the field collecting hydrographic and topographic maps to support the delivery of the district’s civil works, military and interagency and international support missions.

“The timeframes are tight, the budgets are strict, but the District depends on this team to continue to provide the highest quality products, and I’m proud to say we deliver,” said Francis ‘Chip’ Postiglione, Chief, Survey Section, Operations Support Branch.

          Randall (Randy) Hintz, Chief, Operations Support Branch, is responsible for the USACE New York District’s navigation program. Mr. Hintz oversees the technical support, dredged material, management support and survey sections within operations division.

“The challenges are real. We need to deliver, rain or shine, from Montauk Point to Shark River, NJ. Our customers base their designs off the products we provide,” said Hintz.

          The survey team in New York District are recognized leaders USACE-wide in the field of hydrographic and topographic surveying. While seeking creative solutions to meet the need for safe and expedient coastal surveys, survey section personnel successfully built a low-cost, highly accurate, mobile light detection and ranging (LiDAR) platform, the All-Terrain LiDAR Acquisition System, or ATLAS for short.  The ATLAS unit can be trailered on short notice to most locations within the New York District boundaries and be on-site and ready to collect data in a matter of hours. This innovative thinking by members of the section including Miguel Surage, civil engineering technician, and Christopher Aballo, cartographic technician, garnered the New York District the 2017 USACE Innovation of the Year Award.

The cutting-edge technology in survey section doesn’t end there. Hintz explained that with the successful implantation of UAV or drone technology, the team can obtain a complete picture of dredging and coastal storm risk reduction restoration operations without constantly having to deploy teams directly to the site. This increases productivity and cuts down on turnaround created by having to visit each site in person. Drone technology also allows greater flexibility when surveying projects in conditions that could pose safety risks. 

From UAVs to LiDAR surveying tools in backpacks, this crew has developed state-of-the art equipment that gets the job done. The cache of traditional imaging surveying tools available off the self, such as those attached to vessels, vehicles, or totable on humans have their limitations.

Their team began improving and streamlining the survey and geospatial-data collection capabilities by incorporating LiDAR systems into a data collecting backpack, which measures sites within centimeter accuracy. The accuracy of the measurements ensures jobs are preformed correctly, greatly reducing the chance of unexpected cost increases. Prior to this innovation, topographic surveys used to take a significant amount of time because they had to be done by external means and contracts sometimes stalling important processes and missing project milestones. 

“When severe storms like Super Storm Sandy are heading up the eastern seaboard, our pilots now have the ability to fly from Coney Island to Montauk to collect the pre-storm shoreline data ahead of the storms arrival,” said Hintz.

The Survey team, based out of New York District Caven Point Marine Terminal facility in Jersey City, NJ, is accustomed to being available 24/7 and 365 days a year to get the job done.

“Severe weather, tides and technical challenges slow us down but will never stop us,” Postiglione explained.

New York District began its drone program a few years ago with the expectation that it would grow in size and magnitude as time goes on. However, there were significant hurdles to clear to get the program ‘off the ground’, so to speak. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all small, unmanned aircraft operators get a “part 107” pilot’s license to include passing the written test for a manned aircraft pilot’s license. This was no easy task, as the six (6) certified FAA Part 107 drone operators in the Surveys Section had to study for a month with all successfully passing the FAA exam ensuring the District’s drones could be flown. 

In October 2020, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, Chief of Engineers, was invited for an up-close look at the new drone lab facility within the Survey Section office at Caven Point. The Chief appreciated hearing about the state-of-the-art technologies the New York District is working on.

The innovations used by survey section have streamlined survey data collection allowing for more accurate products. This has given the District the ability to produce in-house digital maps and geographic information system mapping, driving down costs and increasing production. These maps are not only used for internal purposes but shared with community partners and contractors alike to illustrate up-to-date centimeter accuracy of federal navigation channels and site conditions.

Postiglione and John Mraz, Deputy Chief, Survey Section, explained the strength of their organization is within the people they have on the team.

          “We can hire people with survey degrees, but there is more to our job than just doing hydrographic surveys,” said Mraz. “What we do here is more than just do the survey, we have to advance the technology. We have to look between the lines a lot when deciding who can contribute to the innovation.”

          The diverse team lead by Hintz, Postiglione, and Mraz continues to move the District further and get the job done.

“This is a highly motivated team of survey professionals. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished so far and look forward to seeing what is on the horizon for them. They’re an asset to both the New York District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Hintz.


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