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Old meets new: NAVFAC Southeast digitally preserving historical documents

04/11/13

NAS JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Status of the Phase I scanning effort for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast Cadastral Modernization Program (CMP) will be presented April 25 when NAVFAC Southeast holds its annual CMP meeting on base.

Cadastral documents are public real estate records, surveys or maps showing ownership, boundaries or value of a property. The NAVFAC Cadastral staff at each Facilities Engineering Command (FEC) is the official custodian of the Navy and Marine Corps real estate records for its area of responsibility. The team will review the way ahead, the importance of the new process in preserving historical records, and any process improvements at the annual CMP meeting.

The CMP project is divided into five phases, with each phase being piloted at NAVFAC Southeast before being used to support other Navy regions. As each phase is successfully completed, a new region will adopt the change. NAVFAC Southeast Real Estate Cartographer and Geographic Information Systems Specialist Jill Rose keeps the project on task by coordinating meetings with other FECs, and engaging with the Naval Air Station Jacksonville Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and contractor ICM Document Solutions to implement any process improvements.

“Results of these meetings show just how big the project is and the importance of sharing information as we push this program out for others to use,” said Rose. “This project will provide access to their legal documents in real time creating a process that allows them to be able to enter the coordinates of a location and learn everything about the transaction.”

Rose explained that the team used available technology to make the workflow easier and the Phase I pilot served as the research and development phase before it was launched to other regions in the Navy. “We had to let go of the way we used to do things and focus on how we could make our process better for everyone who needs the information,” said Rose.

Bob McDowell, NAVFAC Southeast real estate branch head, stated that the project was implemented because a customer requested time-sensitive real estate information. As the team researched and was able to provide the documents within one and a half days, McDowell thought that it should be done more quickly and began researching new ways to improve the response time.

“The needs of our internal and external customers were crucial to this project to provide information as soon as possible,” said McDowell. The team recognized the need for change and came up with innovative ways to be better at what they do.

Rose met with the NAVFAC Southeast real estate team and other stakeholders to decide the best plan of attack for the real estate files. With Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) and NAVFAC Headquarters supporting the ideas of the team, they started to focus on bringing their cadastral documents into the digital age.

In a search for these types of records, the NAVFAC Southeast Real Estate team discovered many historical documents along the way some historical treasures were discovered buried in boxes. “We have deed transfers with ‘wet’ signatures from Presidents Tyler, Polk, Bush, as well as Robert F. Kennedy and the Spanish Governor of Florida,” said Rose. “Some of the documents are so old and fragile, they needed to be handled with extra care.”

The historical discoveries brought immediate attention from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) who visited NAVFAC Southeast to review some of the documents stored in their file system. Finding out the documents have such a historical importance confirmed the need to duplicate and secure the documents.

NARA is an independent agency of the U.S. government assigned to preserve and document government history. Historical data contained in the files at NAVFAC Southeast provide a glimpse into the former way of transferring, disposing or acquiring land.

“The fact we have documents signed by a Spanish leader transferring property to us is very cool,” said Jake Walls, NAVFAC Southeast land surveyor. “History lessons are all around us.”

“This project is going to make retrieving information easier,” said Walls. “Although it is a huge undertaking, it will be well worth it for our customers and the preservation of important documents.”

The project fixes many issues in the old process and now includes electronic conversion, retrieval, output, and distribution of digital and hardcopy information in the form of original deeds, maps, and real estate working files.

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