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I had the privilege of going out with Robert Winters [background] and Eric Workinger of Chadwick & Winters on a work assignment. Now, I have always loved geometry and maps, and on this occassion, I tagged along to better my understanding of the profession which serves as the predicate for so much of my boundary dispute law work.

The area in which this particular survey was conducted was Seattle. This is significant. Those who have looked at my initial assessment, which provides an opportunity to triage your boundary dispute case here, have probably noticed one of my questions seeks to identify what is the overall nature of the land.

Instead of merely thinking of land as either city or rural, courts, and to a much less extent Washington State’s Legislature, characterize land into five basic categories. These are specifically:

  1. City and Suburban;
  2. Vacation or Exurban;
  3. Forest;
  4. Agricultural; and
  5. Remote or Mountainous.

And though I admit I don’t know the “Northwest Backroads” nearly as well as Grant Goodeve of Eight is Enough fame, I highly suspect King County, Snohomish County, Pierce County, and Kitsap County, which we all know have Puget Sound frontage (further adding to land classification complexity), each has land of these five catagorical types contained within their jurisdictions.

Well, Seattle is Washington’s largest city and one of its oldest. As a result, Seattle does not only have plat maps with what surveyors call control points (i.e. monuments previously used and usually set by other surveyors), those control points have been used and reused time and again.

In doing so, each surveyor’s work leaves just a little bit more information in recorded surveys which is then used by subsequent surveyors. The result, is not only precision, but verification of that precision over time. This verification process, due to the fact that the purposes and tools used for subsequent surveys, produces increased accuracy.

Here, despite the interchangeablity of precision and accuracy in common parlance, there is a basic difference between these two concepts which merits explanation. Precision is the ability to perform the same task repeatedly and achieve a very tight tolerance of difference – not error. Accuracy is the ability to perform the task in such a way that yields the “correct” results.

The upshot, a survey that was conducted with the utmost precision may be imprecise. And a survey that is accurate may not be recognized as such because there is a paucity of other corroborating information.

To approach this concept from the other extreme might also inform. Consider how a surveyor is to go about identifying boundaries in unmarked mountenous or remote areas in which huge swaths of land are to be surveyed and recorded. Where are the controls?

To say the controls are in the heavens is not exactly accurate – it’s more like they are in the satelites that circle the earth. Yeah, those things that help your car’s navigational system bark orders at you so you make the necessary turns in order to get to your programmed destinations. These are used in conjunction with the few geodetic monuments that might be out there to “triangulate“, a word made famous by Dick Morris, one’s position.

Alright, alright, already … what does it all mean? Basically, surveys conducted in the city are almost always going to be more accurate than those done out in the sticks because there is much more information both already on the ground and in the recorders office to rely upon.

Now with respect to my little field trip there is something else that I believe ouht to be noticed, go back up and look at the survey equipment standing atop that tripod, can you read the name? I’ll do it for you – it’s a “Leica” – a brand that screams precision. That is an instrument, which should you find occasion of choosing to run into with your car in lieu of a Porche Boxter would be error on your part.

Bottom line answer to the question posed: YES! Surveys performed with precise equipment in locations with several control points are going to be much more accurate than those that are performed without a similar control grid in place.

For those of you yet wanting an accurate and precise explanation of the difference between these two words, you will find an excellent, brief explanation coupled with bullseye depictions