Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The importance of the Land Surveyor to get involved in the Community

The role of the Land Surveyor in our communities is a key and vital role.  I have learned over the years that the role of a land surveyor in a community can be a key component for advising local officials in making key planning and regulation decisions.  Often times we as surveyors tend to focus on our own niches and not look to our overall impact.  Our community leadership often times make decisions based on information but not the whole picture.  The Land Surveyor can shed light on these impacts and decision processes.  We deal in a realm of bridging the gap between land tenure and land regulations.  Yet we may be good at satisfying the needs of our clients we also tend to drop the ball in getting involved in the regulation process.  Often towns and counties enact policies that on their face seem to answer an immediate need to regulate but they do little in the way of looking at the big picture consequences.  This is where the land surveyor can bring information to the table and influence these processes.  However as a profession we fail to get involved and find ourselves reacting to new rules and ordinances that only serve to make our client’s land tenure more difficult.  Personally I serve and have served on planning and zoning commissions and city governance.  In these positions I have had the opportunity to advise these governing bodies with advice and information that was beneficial to the average land owner.  Also it is a great way to become familiar with the process and how to best work within it.  If our profession would focus more on advising our clients on how to best utilize their land to their benefit and not just measure what we are told to we would all be better off.

Surveying is Local

The practice of surveying is a local practice.  It takes years of working in a particular area to become familiar with the local nuance of working there.  This is easy in a small local environment and can become difficult in the broader sense.  I have long held the belief that those who practice everywhere learn little or nothing about this principal.  These firms often times do not know the local pitfalls and ultimately enter into surveying contracts blind.  Sometimes there is a payoff and most times there is not.  A local land surveyor intimate with an area is more valuable to those whom live in that area than those whom aren’t.  Especially when it comes to dealing with local officials.  Regional issues and concerns play a large part in understanding local rules and regulations.

The Good of the Profession

I have been reading up on some of the writings of Curt Brown.  It is not hard to notice that this man was ahead of his time.  Many of the issues he wrote about in the 60’s are the same issues we face today.  The future of the profession.  Education of the profession.  Promoting the profession.  Yet our profession whose practice is steeped in tradition is slow to embrace some of these principals.  As the technology of measurement is advancing our view of our profession moves at a much slower pace.  I attribute this as an attitude of hanging on to historical practices and habits.  However the professionals whom grasp technology and apply these habits tend to be more successful.  However old traditions die hard.  As we are seeing today the paradigm of the survey crew and para-professional technicians is also changing.  Technology has destroyed the hierarchy of the survey crew and apprenticeship.  Where in the past a technician would learn and work their way up the structure to become a party chief and possible a registrant.  Now we have one-man GPS crews whose support and training come from instructions in the office.  In today’s environment the apprenticeship doctrine that many of us learned under is now failing.  Many of these technicians are not being properly trained to evaluate evidence or what and how to measure.  They collect data and turn in a coordinate file.  This is not apprenticeship.  This is not training.  This is technical training that serves an immediate need but does little to instill meaning full education.  The idea of allowing education in boundary surveying to start after the license is issued is a serious misstep and is currently hurting our profession.  What every surveyor needs to understand is that not all surveying is a professional practice.  Most aspects of surveying are merely technical practices of engineering.  Boundary surveying is the only true professional practice because it is the only practice where the science of measurement may be in direct conflict with the principals and doctrines of possessory rights and interests.  This is where the professional decision is made.  We as a profession must embrace the idea that not all surveying is professional.  Therefore not all aspects of surveying can be regulated by the State in a broad brush set of rules and regulations.  In fact I would argue that regional bias also makes boundary surveying hard to regulate in a broad brush approach also.

Technical Standards versus Standard of Care

Arizona is indicative of many states that pursue the regulation of surveying through technical standards.  Technical standards serve a purpose but they do not answer the hard questions faced by those who make boundary determinations.  Those who believe the contrary are more focused on the technical aspects while deficient in the professional aspect of the decision making process based on evidence evaluation.  The principal of Standard of Care addresses the regional bias and influences the decision making process by comparing what the professional decision making process of those practicing in a given area would do.  Again surveying is local; and the standard of care principal is why.  The playing field cannot be leveled by an encompassing technical standard because local or regional bias maybe in direct conflict with these.  The professional should and must have the latitude to make decisions without being hamstrung by a conflicting technical standard.  Where the technical standard must be deviated from; the professional surveyor must be able to offer an intelligent and fact based reasoning for this deviation.  Violating possessory rights or interests for the sake of following a technical standard cannot be tolerated.

APLS should set the Standard of Care

If APLS would assume the role of defining the standard of care then the state would not need technical standards.  However we tend to want to hide from each other instead of talking to each other.  We as an association and a profession must embrace the idea we are colleagues and not competitors.  Colleagues can compete for contracts and engagements without creating an adversarial posture.  Surveyor on surveyor crime is a shameful practice.  We should educate each other through communication not use the BTR to rid ourselves of competition.  The competition will always be there.  We must embrace the idea of open and honest collaboration and not set traps for those whom try to follow in our footsteps.  Nothing we do is a trade secret nor is it proprietary.  We deal in realm of trying to serve the public’s interests not our own.  This is where APLS needs to reach out to nonmembers and nonparticipating members.  We can become better by learning from each other.  We can succeed together or wither and die individually.  I choose unity.


  1. Dan,

    Community involvement.
    I agree with your thoughts and applaud your involvement in local government. The last sentence worries me a little. Some might see this as the practice of law.

    Surveying is local

    The Good of the Profession
    I disagree with your notion that boundary surveying is the only professional branch of land surveying. Construction staking, especially the staking of larger complex public works projects, can and often do, require knowledge and experience beyond that of even the most talented technician.

    Technical Standards versus Standard of Care
    Precisely why we should not have adopted the "not yet ready for prime time" ARIZONA MINIMUM STANDARDS OF PRACTICE FOR BOUNDARY SURVEYS 2/14/2014

    APLS should set the Standard of Care
    As you pointed out land surveying is local and so are the Superior Courts. These two facts combine to make standards of care local as well. The 2016 ALTA Standards recognize this fact as well. See Section 3.C.

    I think most of us would choose unity, unfortunately the old adage "one bad apple will spoil the barrel" is a truism.

    1. In my reading of Curtis Brown I have found his reasoning sound. Construction Staking, Mapping, these are functions of Civil Engineering. The are in support of Civil Engineering projects. These in turn are supervised by a Civil Engineer. I have yet to be involved in a Construction job were I could exercise professional judgement without the direct supervision of the Civil Engineer.

  2. There is something in Curtis Brown's reasoning and your observations but current state statutes includes construction staking in the definition of land surveying and require a registered land surveyor for the construction staking of public works projects.