Have a question for NOAA Coast Survey? Meet our “Answer Man”

By Nick Perugini

Nick PeruginiAs the nation’s nautical chartmaker, NOAA Office of Coast survey serves a wide range of customers ranging from recreational boaters and operators of cargo ships, to historical chart enthusiasts. Customers throughout the world send us questions, comments, and also chart discrepancy reports, letting us know they found an error on a chart. As the Coast Survey “Answer Man,” I manage this communication, including Coast Survey’s response. Customers submit inquiries through our Inquiry and Discrepancy Management System (IDMS) database.
IDMS serves three important functions for Coast Survey. First, it is a mechanism to insure that inquiries  from customers receive prompt and accurate responses. If I can’t answer the question, I make sure it is routed to the appropriate person—often a cartographer—who has the technical expertise to answer the question. Secondly, IDMS is a conduit for all types of users to submit nautical charting discrepancies.   We receive hundreds of discrepancy reports each year from the general public as well as commercial charting companies. These reports help to increase the quality of our charting products. Lastly, managers can query the IDMS database in order to identify areas where the organization can improve the delivery of Coast Survey products and services.
Since 2008, Coast Survey has compiled nearly 20,000 comments, inquiries, and discrepancy reports in IDMS. Eighty percent of those inquiries received responses within five days of receipt. The other twenty percent usually require some type of research that may take weeks or even months. However long it takes, we make it a point to respond to everyone.
Most of the correspondence we receive from the public can be classified as “neutral.”   For example people ask for information like:
Where can I buy a paper chart?”
Occasionally, we receive some negative comments such as the following:
I’m saddened to see that you have cancelled chart 18423. That chart was the right size to hold while navigating. You didn’t have to fold and refold the chart. I understand that there are numerous electronic substitutes, but I do like having the folio chart as a good backup.
However, the positive feedback far exceeds the negative—and can even be quite uplifting as the following comment illustrates:
“I’ve been using your interactive NOAA charts now the past 2 years or more for planning purposes, and I just have to say, for what it’s worth, your Interactive planning tool is probably not appreciated as one of the most impressive and useful mapping achievements since the time GPS was activated. It is truly a boon for sailors, and you probably don’t get the recognition and appreciation you deserve for this incredible accomplishment! Thank you, from a grateful Sailor.”
Over the course of my time in this position, I have come across interesting stories and issues that have improved both our products the knowledge of Coast Survey staff. This blog post is the first of a series of “Answer Man” posts that will share some of these communications. I will use real comments, submitted by real people, with real issues, while protecting the privacy of individuals (i.e. no names are used when giving examples). Our mission in Coast Survey is to promote safe navigation and I hope that a discussion of these issues will further that end.

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