Alumni Profile - Narelle Underwood

Narelle Underwood

BE Hons 1 Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, ’09

NSW Surveyor-General
Member of the School’s Industry Advisory Committee

On 2 September 2016, NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation Secretary, Martin Hoffman, announced the appointment of Narelle Underwood as the NSW Surveyor General.

Mr Hoffman said Ms Underwood brings a wealth of experience, most recently as the Acting Principal Surveyor at NSW Roads and Maritime Services.

“Ms Underwood is a leader in her profession working as an advisor to the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information and Chair of the Surveying Mapping and Industry Council,” said Mr Hoffman. “She has also played a significant role in promoting and developing the survey profession, particularly in the tertiary sector and with young professionals.”

In addition to her considerable personal and professional capabilities, Narelle Underwood also has the distinction of being the first female Surveyor General in Australia.

In her relatively short career to date, Narelle has won a total of nine industry awards for her innovation and commitment to quality outputs, including the Asia-Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards Young Professional of the Year in 2011, which she won from amidst a highly capable international field.

 In 2014 the team which Ms Underwood managed won a NSW Excellence in Surveying and Spatial Information Award for the technical innovation and efficiency they displayed during stage 1 of the WestConnex development project. Under Narelle’s management, six teams covering vast geographical areas used the latest mobile laser scanning technology, cutting surveying time by up to 70%. Because of the densely populated urban environment, other technologies such as traditional detail surveying and Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) were also used to enhance the accuracy of MLS-derived data and filling in any apparent gaps.  

“Merging new and traditional technologies continues to be one of my greatest joys. Combining data drawn from different sources allows surveys to be much richer and more useful,” she says.

Narelle Underwood is not daunted by the ever changing technological landscape of the surveying industry; she is excited by it. Technological innovation can ensure the expansion of public infrastructure in the future.

In her role with RMS, overseeing surveying projects in the Sydney region, much of her work focused on research and development of better, safer and more accurate outputs. Take as an example mobile laser scanning which, as the name suggests, consists of a device mounted on a vehicle which then moves through the area to be surveyed. The device takes images at up to two million pixels per second, which is an astounding feat and allows surveys to be extremely accurate, often down to ten millimetres. Because of the accuracies involved – projects which may ordinarily have taken over 12 months can now be fully completed in a third of the time.

Narelle is working with two professional bodies (ISNSW and SMIC – of which she is chair) on the NSW Surveying Task Force to encourage more graduates to consider a career in surveying – without whom the construction industry could very well grind to a halt.

“There is a severe shortage of Registered Land Surveyors in Australia so we’re working to lifting the profile of the profession,” she said. “With technology changing so rapidly, we really don’t know what will be happening in five or ten years, what people will need and how data and information will be used. It’s an open book, which makes this profession extremely exciting.”