Surveyors Turn to Technology to Thwart Thieves

Cost of Asset Theft Goes Beyond Equipment Replacement

London police recovered an S7 total station thanks to Trimble L2P hardware, which is built-in to the Trimble S-Series.

Jarrod Black R.L.S. is a long-time surveyor with Rochester & Associates, Inc., a 50-year-old land development solution provider with offices in Georgia. Rochester employs a team of engineers, land surveyors and project managers known for their industry expertise, which has earned the company a reputation for quality and reliability. What the company isn’t known for is tracking and recovering equipment stolen from the field.

Until recently.

In the summer of 2017, Black’s team sent a crew chief to a site in downtown Atlanta for preliminary surveying on a major project. RAI usually sends a two-person crew on a project such as this, but on this day only one person was available.

Rochester had rented a new Trimble S7 robotic total station for the job and the crew chief had it in the truck.

Fast-acting Thieves
The Rochester crew chief had barely left his truck at the Atlanta jobsite when fast-acting thieves absconded with the S7. “The timing was amazing,” Black says about the theft. “Our crew chief had just parked the truck and was a short distance away when a car pulled up and a person grabbed the S7 and drove away.”

Equipment theft is a growing problem in the U.S. In 2014, some $1 billion was lost due to stolen construction equipment, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). But the cost of theft goes beyond replacing the equipment. Hidden expenses include low productivity, job loss and higher insurance premiums.

By activating License 2 Protect (L2P) hardware, Trimble initiated a real-time stream allowing Rochester and Duncan Parnell to monitor the movement of the S7.

Technology to the Rescue
Rochester had recently purchased Trimble AllTrak software after a battery case was stolen from the back of a company truck. Rochester uses Trimble equipment, and License 2 Protect (L2P) hardware comes built-in to Trimble S-Series total stations. L2P with AllTrak makes it easy to trace stolen, lost or missing equipment.

The crew chief called Black right away to tell him what happened. Black immediately logged onto AllTrak to track the equipment but quickly realized the dealer hadn’t activated L2P hardware since the equipment was delivered the same day.

Black asked the dealer to contact Trimble to turn on tracking. By activating L2P hardware, Trimble initiated a real-time stream allowing Black and Duncan Parnell to monitor the movement of the S7 through AllTrak. AllTrak quickly reports the equipment’s location; whether it is inside or outside; and the time it arrives and is removed from a site. Within minutes of logging on, Black was able to pinpoint the house to which the S7 had been transported. “The S7 had been sitting inside the house for 30 minutes,” he says.

Black called the police with the address. When officers arrived, they approached the occupants, who denied having the instrument. The police left the house to get a search warrant and within minutes the occupants had jumped in their car and raced away with the S7. Black tracked them on his computer driving to an empty field 15 miles from the jobsite. When the crew chief got there, he found the equipment. The battery was gone but the S7 was fine. “We never would have found the equipment without AllTrak,” Black said. Rochester had invested in AllTrak software after hearing horror stories of stolen instruments from other companies.

Trimble L2P located Rochester’s S7 in a field 15 miles from the jobsite.

Global Problem
This isn’t the first time AllTrak has assisted in the speedy recovery of stolen equipment. Surveying instruments and accessories were taken in East London, also in summer 2017. A Trimble S-Series total station with an activated L2P was instrumental to the recovery.

As in the Georgia theft, the equipment was taken from a jobsite. The staff logged into AllTrak to monitor the instrument’s journey until it came to a standstill. Using Google Maps, they identified the location as a storage center. With Google Street View, they saw a CCTV camera recording activity at the storage center’s entrance. Police used the AllTrak report to determine when the instrument arrived at the storage center, which enabled them to make the arrest.

In addition to the S7, police found more than 30 other stolen survey instruments and accessories. The Survey Association (TSA) shared the list of recovered equipment with its members. As in the U.S., equipment theft is an ongoing problem in the U.K. and TSA actively promotes anti-theft prevention to its constituents.

“The use of AllTrak has literally saved us thousands of pounds (dollars),” said a spokesperson. “While it was stressful watching our instrument visit various caravan sites and eventually ending up in its lockup (storage center), we were able to provide sufficient information for police involvement. Being able to pinpoint the location and the trail of the instrument’s stops along the way helped with a swift conclusion.”

This was the fourth time in London in one year that AllTrak software proved critical to the quick recovery of a stolen instrument.

Kristine Carber-White is a writer based in Silicon Valley. A former editor for the San Jose Mercury News, Carber-White writes extensively on geospatial technology.