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There are around 330 professional land surveyors to Puerto Rico’s population of 3 million, according to the island’s Puerto Rico Association of Land Surveyors. The average salary of a surveyor in the public sector is below average at $48,000 a year.
“Our membership is of about 200 members, and yes, we are experiencing a slight but steady decline as our membership ages,” explains association president Carlos R. Fournier Morales. “We do have new members, and our goal is to attract not only licensed land surveyors but also graduates and students.”
A series of rapid and profound changes characterize Puerto Rico’s economic history. Hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters have all played a part in the outmigration of residents looking for better career prospects. However, there aren’t many prospects that can compete with paradise.
“Because of the reconstruction in Puerto Rico, land surveying firms on the island are having a bonanza,” says Morales. “This means good salaries, all types of surveying projects (big and small ones) and a work-life balance.”
What is the best way for someone to get involved in Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association?
Join the Puerto Rico Land Surveyors Association and come to a meeting. We try to keep our dues and fees reasonable and try to defend the profession on every forum we could. We are doing our meetings virtually also since the commence of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been positive for our members as they can participate from their own home or work.
What would you say is the majority type of land surveying work available to land surveyors in Puerto Rico?
It is difficult to say. After the devastation on the entire island, caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, the reconstruction work has commenced. With this, the work available for surveyors has increased 300 percent. There is a lot of as-built and topographic studies for the construction of bridges, river canalizations, streets and mountain stabilizations, and power lines studies for the reconstruction of the entire electric system. Also, this past year we have suffered various earthquakes for the first time in over 100 years, and with this and the hurricane damage, there is an abundance of construction-related work.
Technology has also entered a lot to our practice. Many surveyors are using 3D scanners, GNSS, UAV, LiDAR for different types of work. The land surveyor profile has changed from being the man with a total station and a “machete” to establish a boundary to a professional capable of managing big engineering projects. But if you really enjoy challenges, there are plenty of boundary disputes all around the island. This has also increased on a big level.
What would you say is the marquee survey project that has been completed in Puerto Rico?
A marquee survey project that has been completed in Puerto Rico could be the realization of the Puerto Rico Vertical Datum of 2002 (PRVD02). Puerto Rico Vertical Datum of 2002 is a vertical datum first defined in 2002-01-01 and is suitable for use in Puerto Rico — on shore.
Puerto Rico Vertical Datum of 2002 origin is mean sea level at San Juan. Benchmark 9756371 A TIDAL = 1.334m relative to National Tidal Datum Epoch 1960-1978.
It was defined by information from the National Geodetic Survey (ngs.noaa.gov) and replaces all earlier vertical datums for Puerto Rico.
This project was managed by NGS, and various local firms of Puerto Rico participated, jointly with the state government.
A popular project underway is “The Puerto Rico GeoFrame Program” that responds to existing land use, land administration and spatial data constraints of the Government of Puerto Rico. Through the program, the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (PRDOH) will support Puerto Rico’s growth towards a spatially enabled society (SES) by producing a foundation of high-quality, geo-referenced data and building an infrastructure of people, policies, software, hardware, and systems for citizens to access and use spatial data to enable evidence-based decision-making.
How would you say the Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association has grown the most over the years?
The Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association was incorporated in 1964. Through the years, the Association has had a lot of success to promote the growth of the land surveying profession in Puerto Rico. It was partly responsible for the establishment of a land surveying degree as a requisite to practice land surveying in Puerto Rico and for the Law 173 of 1988 that regulates the professions of engineering, land surveying and architecture in Puerto Rico.
With this law, the land surveying profession was elevated to the same level as engineering and architecture in Puerto Rico. Since I have been a member, I have seen a growing up number of ways a member can participate in our meetings and decisions. We open up the membership for non-licensed surveyors and students in their last year. This way we can grow our number of members and have a better understanding of others involved on our profession.
How has that growth benefitted Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association members?
Today our members are at the same level of education as engineers and architects. These professions have always been tied to one another. By this, most of our members have benefitted with more work opportunities and the pride of being a licensed surveyor.
Do survey professionals need their license to be involved with the Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association?
No, we have different types of membership that includes licensed surveyors, surveyors in training, graduates of land surveying programs, and last-year students of surveying programs. We appreciate and encourage involvement.
To practice land surveying in Puerto Rico you have to have a state license. One of our goals is to promote licensing between our members.
What do you think is affecting the growth of the land surveying profession in general the most in Puerto Rico?
The growth of the profession is being affected by various reasons. The principal reason for me is the lack of information of what is land surveying, all its components what a land surveyor does. It is difficult to sell a career in surveying in the scope of a 15-minute presentation on Career Day. The land surveying career should be promoted with all its opportunity, including how remunerated it is. Also, the profile of a land surveyor has changed since the arrival of new technologies as GNSS, 3D scanners, drones, GIS, etc. This is how we should promote the profession — an adventure with somedays on the outside world and others in the office.
The scope of work for us surveyors has grown a big way, and we should take advantage of this to take the profession to the next level and keep one of the oldest professions in the world moving.
What rules or laws are on the books or up for review would you say threaten the survey profession in Puerto Rico Land Surveyors’ Association?
Right now, the main threat is not having enough licensed surveyors for the amount of work that has to be done for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico. Like I said before, the amount of work has triple since the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Also, many young surveyors are leaving the island to the US mainland as they graduate from university because of better initial job offers. We had been experiencing this for years. With the reconstruction starting, some surveyors that left are returning home. This is a good sign, but still Puerto Rico is on an economic recession since 2006 and it is pretty hard to get a stable job opportunity.
Most licensed surveyors in Puerto Rico have their own firm. There are few land surveying jobs in the public sector and this is a threat to the profession.
What do you think makes Puerto Rico a great place to practice the land surveying profession?
Sometimes we call Puerto Rico the “Continent Island” because in only 100 miles, 35 miles wide, you can find a diversity of ambience that you can find visiting multiple countries or continents. The south part of the island is basically a type of desert, the northeast part of the island you have a rainforest, the north is covered by a mountain range and, as a island, we are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean at the North and by the Caribbean Sea to the South. With all these characteristics, there is no way that every day will be the same working as a land surveyor in Puerto Rico. Each day will be a different adventure, making it fun and a perfect way to gather experience in all types of jobs as a land surveyor. We say sometimes, if you can do land surveying in Puerto Rico, you can do it anywhere. As for our Association, our main focus is on making sure that we are promoting and defending the profession for new licensed surveyors to carry on our work for the future. We also promote our association as a forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices so we can better serve Puerto Rico and the profession of land surveying.