Measurement is Dead; Long Live Measurement

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November 20, 2012Historically, land surveyors have been looked upon as educated men possessing skills that exceeded those of their fellow countrymen. The surveyor’s primary tools, besides his highly technical equipment, was a comprehensive knowledge of higher mathematics and more importantly, he knew how to apply this knowledge. As land was the first real commodity in America, the land surveyor’s opinions were held in the highest regard and his marks and stones and maps and charts carried great weight and significance. Not surprisingly, his equipment was foreign to the rest of the populace and unlike a hammer, or a shovel, or a pitchfork, the principal tools for an agrarian society, the surveyor’s transit was a powerful and mysterious device, one controlled by men of science and power and one that proved to be more powerful than a rifle. Inevitably and as with all things technical and mysterious, the shroud was eventually unveiled and the ability to measure and position was reduced to a microchip found in modern cell phones, automobiles, and children’s toys.

Today, the land surveyor is no longer the Master of Measurement; everyone measures and the profession now includes women, much to the betterment of the profession. Men no longer dominate land surveying.

Unlike other professions, as the secretive tools of the land surveyor were methodically commercialized and distributed to the masses, the profession stubbornly held on to the one function that was systematically being rendered commonplace, that being the ability to locate and map things. Consequently, the profession began a long and painful descent into the abyss of pedestrian mediocrity and it is a descent that continues today as the surveyor’s functions have been replaced by miniature plates of silicon and high tech cameras. Most of what the land surveyor prided himself on are now everyday tasks and regrettably, the profession did little to impede this predictable implosion.

As GPS developed, contemporary surveying publications were filled with colorful articles espousing the value of satellites and orbits and signals and other arcane data while accompanying articles were written about sine waves, sun spots, and signals. Land surveying conferences were chocked with presentations about satellites and sunspots and little attention was paid to changes in real property law and evolving business opportunities, all of which were driven by a contemporary society and included the vocations of GIS, land planning, land use consultation, real estate appraisal, and environmental sciences. To make matters worse, instead of recognizing the evolution of these land based professions, most land surveyors were too busy competing with computers and chasing satellites around. Instead of capitalizing, they capitulated. During this era, land planners became incredibly powerful and rather axiomatically, if land planning required licensing, it would have been a natural avenue for land surveyors to pursue. Instead, many myopically joined the bandwagon and invested heavily in more measuring things while the industry’s periodicals and technical journals welcomed the dialogue. My nine-year old granddaughter knows how to run GPS. These fascinating devices have been installed in children’s games and like an automobile engine, no one needs to understand how they work, they just need to know how to push a button and hit the gas. The rapid evolution of GPS technology was evident and predictable and is no different that wireless technology and the Ipod. In the end, all electronic devices are ultimately reduced to simple button pushing as adjustments and corrective checks and balances are inherently built into the devices. At the risk of survey blasphemy, GPS is simply an extension of tape and plum bob technology and nothing more. It is a measuring tool just like a ruler is.

Along with GPS, LIDAR came along, another fascinating and innovative tool. Not to diminish the value of LIDAR, in the end, it is nothing more than a fancy camera. For anyone keeping score, the land surveyor is being replaced by silicone chips, satellites, and fancy cameras.

As these technologies have become more refined and ease of use becomes the paramount objective, unlike days of yore when electronic distance measuring was a complex and tedious task, anyone can operate a GPS device or a LIDAR system and as is typical with most technologies, the whole process has become automated and robotic. In an automated grading operation, a computer interprets the data and it guides the grading equipment. There are no grade stakes and grade stakers. LIDAR equipment can as-built the entire site rendering the land surveyor obsolete. All the while these changes occurred, the land surveyor once again sat by the sidelines. No longer can he he/she lay claim to the time honored title as the Master of Measurement; Measurement is Dead.

The recent downturn in the economy has been driven by many things and the eventual recovery is being driven by even more powerful forces. In spite of the fact that the housing and land development industries have been eviscerated, the minds of technology and science have been anything but inactive. Although the capital needed to finance new tools and devices has stalled, the thinking has not. When the economy resumes and contractors are able to utilize the technological resources that are lying in wait, the business of land surveying will look entirely different. Now everyone measures. What then will become of the profession of land Surveying? Any business model based upon construction layout and mapping is doomed to anorexic attrition. These businesses are over and they are not returning. Robotic equipment will lay out subdivisions and fancy cameras will make maps. Most planning studies and site analysis will occur in the GIS arena.

A contemporary examination of many business types will reveal that a large number of companies continue to develop their perceived share of the market by offering these measurement services. For better or worse, because of the success of GPS and LIDAR and previous developments in photogrammetry, these services are inherently provided by and performed by others we shall call one-task-technicians. They push buttons and wait around. And as they are performed by people proficient in the use of technical tools, they have been reduced to offering what now amounts to a conventional commodity. Those who provide services to others under a competitively bid contract, one wherein the lowest bidder is awarded the contract, must inherently abandon the notion of this being a professional service. If the only prerequisite to fee award is the lowest fee, the product is by definition a commodity. Given all of the advances in measuring tools, it does not require special skills to set up a tripod and to push a few buttons to gather positional data. As is inevitable with all areas of modern technology, these tools are becoming easier to use and they are available to everyone. It is the way of modern technology and it cannot be stopped. Handheld GPS devices can quickly attain remarkably precise positioning and all things terra firma are being mapped and remapped. Wal-Mart offers a handheld GPS device for $39.98 along with an accompanying book “GPS for Dummies.” Mapping services such as those compiled by Google have brought the world of mapping projections into every school child’s home and onto every parent’s dashboard. Whither the land surveyor in this technical revolution? And what of that ever painful subject, GIS or “Get it Surveyed.” Talk about missed opportunities. Regrettably, nothing can be added here that has not been said before. That conversation ended years ago. Where then does all of this leave the business of
land surveying and what about the profession of land surveying? Where do we go from here and who is ready to go? There are no trees and the forest is gone.

Upon contemplating all of this, one of the things I find most amazing about the profession is the debate I often witness between surveyors who pound their chest to brag about the “accuracy” of their work, i.e., their role as a Master of Measurement. Years ago I was involved in a contentious boundary dispute between two warring neighbors. When we eventually ended up in litigation, I remember the criticism that was hurled at me regarding my work. This occurred because the other surveyor had based his boundary procedure on state plane coordinates and I did not. The neighbor’s attorney had boasted that his client’s survey was far more accurate than mine because the basis of bearings was displayed to a decimal degree and mine was not. His, of course was a GPS derived value. After the opposing surveyor did his best to impress everyone with his tools and technology, I pointed out that he had used the wrong monument to establish his client’s boundary lines and he was off by five-feet. So much for the wonders of modern science. As a curious follow up to this incident, several years later, I was embroiled in another dispute with this same surveyor. In that case, he had prepared a detailed survey wherein he concluded that one of my monuments was out of location by 0.01’. Somewhat amazingly, he presented a neatly drawn exhibit for the court documenting his findings. He was once again, the quintessential, Master of Measurement, sitting at the right hand of God, handing the Ten Commandments to Moses. I pointed out to the court that his survey did not close by 0.05’. His misapplication of significant figures proved fatal. The chest thumping quickly subsided and our side prevailed but not after my client had to spend an additional $15,000 to defend a hundredth! This was an embarrassing day for the land surveying profession.

So where does this leave us? The answer is obvious; it is time for the profession to rise to this call in a unified front. At a national level, we must embrace continuing education (CE) and we must redefine the profession. [The map shows what states require CE.] Despite efforts to elevate the profession, a few states refuse to adopt CE requirements. These include one of the oldest states in the union, Massachusetts and one that should be taking a leadership role, California. In an effort to explain why the Golden State has not adopted a CE program, the legislature has opposed CE unless and until it can be proven how and why it benefits the public. Notwithstanding their position, any arguments opposing CE must by necessity cease and this puerile debate must conclude. Although I am not required to take CE as a requirement if licensure, I religiously attend classed and seminars and I read extensively about law and land use issues. I suspect that if CE became a requirement in California, it would not be anywhere near as daunting as my personal curriculum is.

Returning to the mechanics of land surveying, it does not take the skills of a professional land surveyor to make an accurate map. It does not take a professional land surveyor to stake out a subdivision tract. It does not take a professional land surveyor to guide road building equipment. It does not take a professional land surveyor to compile 98% of the data found in most GIS maps. It does not take a professional land surveyor to push a button. The business of land surveying has been reduced to a commodity wherein contracts are awarded based upon the lowest fees just like plumbers and carpenters and bricklayers and sadly, the land surveying community has allowed this to happen. Does anyone care? Considering that the business side has pretty much been reduced to commoditization, is anyone interested in saving the profession of land surveying? If so, now is the time to stand up. Bold steps must be taken.

Returning to a unified approach to CE, the very thought sends fear in the hearts and minds of many land surveyors. How dare you question my capacity as a land surveyor? I know what I am doing; I am a licensed land surveyor. I passed the test! Regrettably, it is that kind of thinking that has reduced the profession to its present state. Did you say you are a landscaper?

After considerable analysis of this debate, one concludes that the flawed logic behind those that oppose CE can be traced to the peculiar devolution of the profession into an industry. Unlike most other learned professions, the majority of land surveyors are the product of the tried and true apprenticeship route. Those most opposed to a formal education are generally products of the field; they learned from another surveyor through the apprentice route. They learned things that cannot be taught in school. They learned how to survey, they learned how to measure, they learned how to make maps, they learned how to draw things, they learned how to look for things and they learned a great deal about the field but not enough about “the office” side of things. Their perception of their apprenticeship training is so extraordinary, they feel they are above others and they feel they do not need a formal education. After all, they apprenticed for many years under the guidance of another land surveyor who taught them how to use an EDM and a level and a transit and in days of yore, the plumb bob, tape, and rod, once valued tools and now museum relics. They were smart, they learned a lot but they did not learn enough. Their familiarity with measuring equipment and the art of measurement followed a proven and somewhat romantic path of apprenticeship. They learned how to survey under the tutelage of another land surveyor and they are proud of that as they should be. Times have changed and it is not enough. We are no longer the Masters of Measurement. We have been replaced by a fancy camera, infrared light, and a few microchips. Positioning technology has rendered much of what we do obsolete at a professional level. Are you competing in a unit/cost based field? Are your services a commodity?

It has now been twelve years since I sold my twenty-year old land surveying practice. When I did, I had twelve employees, comprised of two full time crews, several drafters, and two office surveyors. Since then, I reorganized and created a new business model. In addition to providing conventional surveying services, I also offer my services as a land use consultant and as an expert witness. It has been a very rewarding change as well as a lucrative practice. Today, my work involves many diverse types of work, all of which falls within the profession and business of land surveying.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of my practice involves my role as either a peer level consultant, wherein I function as an equal to the civil engineers or, as a lead consultant. Unlike most surveying firms, when I ran my former business, I did very little work for engineers as they worked for me. I must confess I have never understood why so many surveyors have allowed themselves to depend on the coat tails of the civil engineer for his/her livelihood. After all, why must the surveyor be dependent on the civil engineer for work? Who made that rule and why do so many surveyors permit such a relationship to exist? To most engineers, the land surveyor is the subordinate, or, as one Southern California City Engineer said, the surveyors were nothing more that paraprofessionals.

In my practice, I oftentimes serve in the lead consultant role and I retain the civil engineers to support my efforts. They are dependent upon me for their work and I am the one who interfaces with the client and the municipality. I am the one who negotiates development exactions with the municipality while the civil engineer is the one who prepares the associated engineering plans. One must now ask the obvious. What is it that distinguishes the civil engineer from the land surveyor? The answer is q
uite obvious – education. Unlike the surveyor’s apprenticeship route to licensure, the civil engineer is the product of a rigorous and impressive formal education. He/she is the product of the university while the land surveyor is the product of the field and his/her education involves learning how to set a level up while the engineer’s is studying mechanics and physics. This, of course, is not intended to denigrate this process; it is one that produced me. The civil engineer’s education is not only more formal, but it also inherently includes a much broader educational underpinning. It embraces the formal studies of humanities, mathematics, computer graphics, English, economics, and the arts. The surveyor’s involves the hammer and the shovel and the tripod and the rod. Therefore and based purely upon education, the civil engineer is the one better suited to assume the mantle of the lead consultant in spite of the fact that the field surveyor is far more qualified to solve real world-on the ground problems. What then must the surveyor do to elevate him/herself so that he/she is on parity with the engineer? The answer once again is simple – education.

Economic pressures combined with pent up demands for applying technological tools has resulted in rapid advances in more sophisticated areas of land development and engineering. In Oregon, the Department of Transportation is revolutionizing road construction by developing a new process called “Design to Dozer – Computer Controlled Heavy Equipment.” According to a recent press release:

ODOT is poised to make a significant change to its automation of surveying, design, and construction administration. K&E Excavating was incorporated in 1998. In 2004 we made our initial purchase of machine controlled technology. K&E currently maintains and operates eleven pieces of heavy equipment that utilize this method of construction. We have a full time staff dedicated to keeping all equipment upgraded and running at peak capacity. Approximately 75% of our work is classified as heavy highway construction and involves the use of this equipment.


Where is the control surveyor and the grade staker?

Of the many professions interrelated in the overall land related professions such as land surveying, soils engineering, architecture, civil engineering, one stands apart from the others. That is the area of land planning. Curiously, land planners are not licensed. In the world of politics and public perception, the land planner is held in high esteem. Why is that and what are the qualifications to become a planner? Many land planners matriculate to land planning after graduating with a liberal arts based education; it is the land planners who decide where things will be built and what they will look like and whether or not the project is even feasible. As a friend of mine often says, land planners are good with dull scissors, crayons, and construction paper. If land planners are not licensed, what then prohibits the land surveyor from performing land planning? Section 8726.2 of the California Land Surveyors Act reads:

A licensed land surveyor may also perform land planning in connection with the land surveying activities authorized by this chapter.

As essential land planning involves the familiarity with such things as zoning, topography, land use, route alignment, utility systems, and grading activity, is not the land surveyor nominally capable of performing the chores of the unlicensed land planner? Why then do not more land surveyors offer this service? What makes a liberal arts major more qualified to be a land planner? The answer is obvious again – education and in this case, politics.

For those who have worked and toiled in the field staking out subdivisions and roads and buildings and improvements, most land surveyors would agree that they have spent more time resolving design problems created by engineers and architects than they care to recall. In the end, it is the land surveyor who is on the ground assuring that the water flows in the right direction and that the slopes are built to proper specifications and that the oversized building fits on the lot. Grading is after all the application of the surveyor’s sciences to the alteration of the earth’s surface. It involves the determination of area, volume, gradients, flows, horizontal and vertical control, height, and layout. Who can argue that the land surveyor does not understand how grading works considering many land surveyors make a living implementing and fixing grading plans? Why then does not the land surveying profession seek legislative changes wherein he/she is authorized to prepare grading plans? Looking back over the history of land surveying and civil engineering, one is struck by the absurdity of licensing processes wherein a civil engineer answers one question about land surveying and is permitted to practice land surveying while the land surveyor who is involved in construction layout spends most of his/her time in the field correcting poorly designed projects does not enjoy licensing reciprocity relative to grading plans. It is far too often that the surveyor assures that the plans work and that the water flows to where it is supposed to go. In retrospect, given the depth of involvement by surveyors in grading work, it would seem as if the authority to prepare grading plans would be a natural. Of course, the reason surveyors are not permitted to prepare grading plans is because of the threat it poses for the civil engineer. It is after all nothing more than a turf battle having nothing to do with experience or qualifications. What this means is simple land grading knowledge can easily be a candidate for CE and then, testing for licensure. The practice of land surveying must be redefined.

In England, chartered surveyors offer a broad range of services including mortgage valuations, homebuyer’s survey, property valuations, building surveys, building surveyors’ services, quantity surveying, land surveying, auctioneering, estate management and other forms of survey and building related advice. These are not only appropriate services, they are practices entirely consistent with the abilities and capabilities of many professional land surveyors. As part of my own practice, I work closely with real estate appraisers in condemnation and eminent domain proceedings. In determining the highest and best use of land, one of the more important components is development potential or maximum land yield. This involves an analysis of land planning, topographic constraints, reviewing soils conditions (based on a soils engineer’s report) and determining zoning and density. It is essentially a land planning study. Why are not more land surveyors performing this work? Instead of bidding a razor thin bid for construction staking, why not pursue land planning?

The preparation of ALTA surveys is similar to a due diligence investigation or an appraisal. In many land surveying business, the land surveyor has been engaged to assist clients in their purchase of real property. Although the ALTA standards set forth a comprehensive set of guidelines relative to title and survey issues, there are a myriad of other appraisal related concerns associated with the acquisition of real property. On this note, it is to be remembered that an ALTA survey is a collaborative effort with the title industry. What of a collaboration between land surveyors and the real estate industry wherein property is analyzed from the perspective of ALTA issues? The 2011 ALTA/ACSM standards already provide for the land surveyor to evaluate and comment on the following:

Current zoning classification, as provided by the insurer.

Current zoning classification and building setback requirements, height and floor space area restrictions as set forth in that classification, as provided by the insurer.

tal Agency survey-related requirements as specified by the client, such as for HUD surveys, and surveys for leases on Bureau of Land Management managed lands.

These are not necessarily conventional survey tasks, at least as perceived by many land surveyors, as they fall under land planning and land use issues. Clearly, they can be integrated into the practice of land surveying and clearly the CE requirements should change accordingly in contemplation of this area of practice.

On another front and relative to offering a professional service, one of the mistakes made by a large number of land surveyors is their failure to follow through after the survey is completed. Remember the staking of the lot corners was probably fee based making it a common commodity. Far too many surveyors will place their markers in the ground and then prepare a map or ALTA survey, satisfied that they have fulfilled their contractual duties. What then of the land surveyor’s professional duties? Is it possible that the surveyor may have created more problems by the placement of the markers and issuance of a problematic plat than they realize? This is a curious act and one that warrants further consideration.

As any boundary expert will attest, if a survey reveals the existence of encroachments or conflicts between the deeded lines and the survey lines, it is fair to assume that there are problems – problems that are in need of resolution and clients in need of professional advice. In the vast majority of real property litigation I have been involved with, there have usually been numerous surveys performed of the disputed land. In most instances, the technical measurements are fairly close and with the exception of minor differences fueled by surveyor ego and that serve no other purpose than to serve as fodder for the attorneys to argue about, the real question involves the disposition of the various improvements and adverse uses that should be documented as well as the interpretation of the evidence located and measured. This begs the question as to who is best qualified to identify the nature of these features as well as who is in the best position to advise the client as to the impact on the property surveyed. Clearly the land surveyor is not qualified to practice law or to give legal advice but he/she should be competent enough to recognize the elements of prescription and adverse possession as well as zoning and building code issues. Once again and as an unfortunate testament to the profession, many surveyors are not familiar with the status of the law in this area nor are they familiar with building and zoning laws. For many surveyors, their education in this area stopped the day their license was issued and sadly, most are under the mistaken impression that because this subject was addressed by Curtis Brown years ago, it is dicta and definitive. As Lawrence Lacombe, a Land Title Consultant and former Vice President & Chief Title Officer with Fidelity National Title Company in Los Angeles so eloquently wrote in his illuminating article “Disputes over the Location of Existing Walls or Fences in California” (

A neighbor whose existing fence or wall was set several feet over on an adjoining owner’s property for more than seven years might think he has a supportable claim to the portion of the adjoining land enclosed by his fence or wall. If that neighbor had read only Curtis Brown (Boundary Control & Legal Principles, 4th Ed. (1995); and Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location 4th Ed. (2002)), and maybe perused some California statutes, he might feel encouraged to try his claim in court.

But if that neighbor found out what courts in California had been saying on the subject – particularly in the last fifteen years or so, he would know that if he filed a complaint or cross complaint based on fence or wall location, he would very likely lose.

As the courts have since ruled, the law has changed and the terms under which a prescriptive easement can be acquired are not as previously thought. Far too many land surveyors are not aware of these changes. This begs the inevitable question: should the practicing land surveyor be faulted for not being familiar with this and other important changes in real property law? After all, at the time of licensure, he/she demonstrated familiarity with the then existing legal standards for prescription easements and adverse possession just as he/she did in other areas of practice. Alas, the laws and sciences have changed and they continue to change. What of the analysis of sag and temperature adjustments for steel tapes? Could this lack of understanding have been avoided? Of course it can and the answer once again is through a vibrant CE program.

Without a doubt, of all the areas of practice that the land surveyor is involved with and the one area he/she should excel in is real property law, one of the more dynamic facets of jurisprudence. Along with the aforementioned area of prescriptive easements, the federal courts have recently issued some very controversial decisions in the area of riparian and littoral boundaries. As all boundary line experts are aware, the courts are overturning a large body of law in response to the effects of global warming and sea level rise. How does a land surveyor stay abreast of these changes? The answer is once again CE. CE in the area of real property should not only be mandatory – it should be undertaken biannually.

As noted earlier, although the land surveyor cannot and should not practice law, he/she is in essence a “first responder” on the ground. A capable and qualified land surveyor should readily recognize the evidence and attributes of adverse possession and prescription and under what I propose to be a revision to the definition of land surveying, building and zoning issues as well as basic environmental analysis such as Phase 1 ESA issues. Interestingly enough, of the typical report requirements for a Phase 1 ESA, many are traditional land survey duties and include the following:

Performance of an on-site visit to view present conditions (chemical spill residue, die-back of vegetation, etc.) ; hazardous substances or petroleum products usage (presence of above ground or underground storage tanks, storage of acids, etc.); and evaluate any likely environmentally hazardous site history.

Evaluation of risks of neighboring properties upon the subject property.

Review of Federal, State, Local and Tribal Records out to distances specified by the ASTM 1528 and AAI Standards (ranging from 1/8 to 1 mile depending on the database).

Interview of persons knowledgeable regarding the property history (past owners, present owner, key site manager, present tenants, neighbors).

Examine municipal or county planning files to check prior land usage and permits granted

Conduct file searches with public agencies (State water board, fire department, county health department, etc.) having oversight relative to water quality and soil contamination issues.

Examine historic aerial photography of the vicinity.

xamine current
USGS maps to scrutinize drainage patterns and topography.

Examine chain-of-title for Environmental Liens and/or Activity and Land Use Limitations (AULs).

With a minimal amount of training and education, integrating these skills into the defined practice of land surveying can be done with nominal effort. This can be accomplished by first, preparing a CE program in environmental assessment. These programs should then be offered for several years and the future land surveying applicants should be notified that these classes are a prerequisite to licensure as a land surveyor. In five years, applicants for a license would then be tested in the applicable provisions of environmental assessment. After all, who is best qualified to examine topographic maps, chain-of-title documents, aerial photography, research public agency records, examine planning records, review a property’s history, and analyze on-site environmental conditions? I note that current ALTA/ACSM optional items include the following:

Observed evidence of site use as a solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill.

Location of wetland areas as delineated by appropriate authorities.

Today’s land surveyor must be well versed so that when certain conditions exist, he/she should advise his/her client as to his/her observations as well as advising the client to seek proper legal counsel. At a minimum, the disclosure should be made and the efforts documented. The land surveyor cannot treat the illness but he/she should recognize the symptoms and he/she should work closely with the attorney so that they can jointly assess the situation. By being acquainted with the conditions associated with the adverse property doctrines and related areas, he/she can gather the evidence needed to support his/her client’s position as well as to gather the information eventually needed by the court or the property owner in order to resolve the dispute. Did I forget to mention that none of these activities involves measurement? Measurement is dead.

Along with the concept of managing civil engineers and others, land surveyors are also capable and qualified to function as project managers wherein they can oversee other disciplines. As an example, in instances wherein insurance claims are made and eventually settled, a complex restoration project, such as a landslide requires the coordination of field surveyors, civil engineers, geologists, landscapers, and contractors; who then is best qualified to shepherd such a project? Is it not the surveyor who is retained to first gather the topographic data which is then used by the civil engineer in designing the project and once the design is completed, is it not the land surveyor who is the one to lay these features out through construction staking (albeit, a soon to be obsolete practice)? Once the work of improvement is completed, it is the land surveyor who is responsible for the verification process. He/she will typically certify that the work was done pursuant to the approved plans. With the rapid advent of GPS controlled grading, who is going to be responsible for that work? Will a licensed individual be responsible for an as-built certification? If so, which licensed individual? Will it be the civil engineer or will it is the land surveyor or will it be the GIS technician skilled at assimilating LIDAR data? In all likelihood it will be neither as the GPS manufacturers will continue to refine their equipment to assure Quality Assurance and Quality Control as an integrated part of automated machine technology and state licensing boards will permit this to happen. Clearly, current technology makes this process very simple. Once the GPS controlled grading operation is concluded, a basic LIDAR system will gather the as-built data and quality control will be assured instantaneously by a few more microchips. If the project deviates from the acceptable tolerances, it will be a simple matter for the computer program, i.e., GIS technician, to refine the grading until the site is within acceptable tolerance. Throughout this process there would have been little, if any field traditional surveying. Unless the land surveyor asserts him/herself, it will be either the civil engineer or the “certified” GIS technician who will perform this work, all from the comfort of an air-conditioned office or from a caffeine stained table at a Starbucks.

It seems almost trivial to spend any more time on GIS. For years, this important and fascinating science has been served up to the land surveyor on a silver platter. In spite of repeated overtures, it appears as if the surveying community has missed that boat. There is still hope but as with all things missed, it will require work and learning and yet again, the answer can be found with CE. Even though many land surveyors remain reluctant to learn about GIS, they are being exposed to it on a more frequent basis. Therefore and in spite of the protestations, the contemporary land surveyor must be familiar with GIS as more and more data is being compiled and distributed under this medium. Not surprisingly, the GIS sciences are beginning to perform the work of the land surveyor. At the risk of expected outrage, it is only a matter of time before the courts, legislature, and community will value a GIS map over a traditional survey map. If nothing else, simply because they are prettier. As an aside, I am constantly humored by the large number of surveyors who attend an ESRI or GIS program and then lament about how they feel left out. You think!

In conclusion, change abounds everywhere. Survey businesses are folding and GIS maps are deemed more credible than official survey maps. Machine automated grading is becoming the norm and LIDAR imagery the medium of display and measurement. Because of robotic surveying, the apprentice route to training no longer exists as it makes no economic sense to send two people in the field. How does one train a land surveyor as an apprentice when there is no one supervising this person? The very notion of one-person robotics runs contrary to the notion of apprentice training. Concomitantly, the surveying industry is overrun with legions of coordinate gatherers who have no concept of boundary analysis but they are great at capturing coordinates! Still, they vociferously declare, they are land surveyors, albeit land surveyors who don’t know how to read a deed or interpret maps or understand error propagation. What error you say? There can be no error. I measured it and the coordinate is to the nearest thousandth of a foot.

Michael J. Pallamary, PLS is the president of Pallamary & Associates of La Jolla, California. Mr. Pallamary is a member of the California Land Surveyors Association and a founding member of the Land Surveyors Advisory Council ( He has been surveying real property since 1971. Mr. Pallamary can be reached at

A 206Kb PDF of this article in an easier-to-read three-column format can be found HERE