Although many surveyors may be comfortable with their current situations, they should be aware that the profession is facing major challenges...

History of the Surveying Business

Looking back at the history of the surveying business may help us to understand the potential problems we face in the future. Much has changed over the last couple of decades. Dual registrations for engineers and surveyors have declined. Technology has separated the professions and aided the change for fewer personnel to perform tasks. Different companies are eroding the land surveying business by offering the services that surveyors have traditionally performed. These are the issues that could cloud the profession and business of surveying.

The Unlicensed Surveyor

There have always been unlicensed people who perform land surveying services, find property corners and get someone else to sign their plats. These perpetrators are bad for surveying businesses, but I am more disturbed by the companies that perform GPS services without the supervision of a registered surveyor. I have received advertisements for GPS services from companies that do not have any personnel with qualifications or registration. They just make a low bid, show up and get the job. Folks, take my word on this: it is going on all over the country.

Bringing GPS surveys under the regulation of your board of registration may require a change in the wording of your state law or administrative code to reserve this as work for a licensed surveyor. It also requires the surveying profession to take action against the companies that breach these regulations. I remember many years ago that the Ohio surveying society challenged a title company for performing surveys with its in-house staff. A lot of money and a long time later, the Ohio society prevailed and stopped the unlicensed practice. State societies need to stop making it harder for surveyors to keep their registration current and focus on the things that truly protect the public, such as making sure services are performed by trained and competent surveying professionals.

Aerial Mapping

Another area that concerns me is aerial mapping. Mapping by non-licensed people has been going on as long as I can remember. A few states are taking steps to regulate mapping professionals through registration laws, which is a great start. But I am most concerned about statewide mapping programs that will make mapping data available off-the-shelf. I am a firm believer that the surveyor should be involved in the base mapping part of any statewide program as well as be the sole professional qualified to develop topographic mapping from these products. The reliance on topographic products by the general public is so great that a professional should be put in charge. Does your state society have the courage to tackle this issue?

GPS and Construction

Unless you have been living in a cave, you most likely have heard about the use of GPS in construction stakeout. One of the problems surveyors face is the construction companies that buy GPS equipment to do their own stakeout, which takes work away from surveyors. In March, the CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2005 trade show was held the week before the ACSM convention. This is one of the largest construction trade shows in the world. What equipment do you think drew some of the biggest crowds at this show? Staking out construction with GPS, which included everything from GPS-controlled equipment to staking out survey control. One of the GPS manufacturers had a display to show contractors how to stake out subdivision corners. Now, do I have your attention?

I believe that a lot of construction stake work will be provided by the contractor in the future. However, most construction companies are incapable of developing their own Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) needed to utilize the machine-guided and controlled equipment. For this part of the process, the most logical thing is for the contractor to enlist a surveying company for help. Surveyors who create DEMs need to be aware of the liability involved in construction work. If they are careful and obtain a contract, and a good understanding of their role and of the product they are providing, surveyors can retain business by offering this service to contractors.

Joining Together

Do you agree that these problems are an erosion of your services? Generally, when a licensed surveyor has to compete with unlicensed people, he will lose the work because he will be underbid. Now that I have laid out some problems facing the profession, the question that we must answer is what we individually and collectively will do to preserve our future.

How are surveyors going to defend themselves from problems caused by unregulated GPS surveying, aerial mapping and construction stakeout? Many state societies have saved considerable sums of money for a rainy day. I just looked outside and it is beginning to sprinkle. I hope you collectively are ready to spend some of that money to defend our rights and protect the public from unqualified and untrained people providing services best left to the professional surveyor.

In addition to working through your state society, you should consider joining the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) at This organization offers the benefit of bringing all of the state societies together to work on common problems and to have a voice in Washington, D.C. Together we can retain our profession-individually we have already lost.