Survey Grade? Why Hiring a Licensed Surveyor is a Good Move

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series xyHt in print May 2016

Only if you’re a Surveyor®

Editor’s note: You can do plumbing without being a plumber, but not surgery without being a surgeon. Terms have meaning; surveying as a licensed profession is (but should not be) a term that is loosely applied. Surveyor and educator Kelly Ness offers the following thought-provoking look at the use and misuse of the term “surveying,” and an even more interesting proposal. 

There’s a myriad of challenges facing the surveying profession today. Is a paradigm shift needed to protect the validity of hiring a licensed professional surveyor in the advent of the information age?

As we face these challenges, the public trusts surveyors (and only surveyors) as the authority when creating and retracing property boundaries. Additionally, surveyors are still highly regarded in the geospatial industry. However, hobbyists with drones are claiming to provide “survey grade” data quality, with no background in the fundamentals (or other tools required) that would be necessary to produce a professional product.

I started to notice something last summer while attending a seminar at an aviation event. One of the speakers was sharing the data he collected with his drone. During the presentation of his 3D model, he continually used the terms “surveying” and “mapping” with his drone, although he had no professional background in photogrammetry, surveying, or aviation.

I was in the audience thinking, “Do we really want to have people claiming they can ‘survey’ with their drones?”  

Someone in the audience with obvious experience in aerial mapping asked, “What method did you use to establish ground control?”

The presenter responded, “We closed off the area to the public by posting people at the perimeter of the project site.” Okay, not exactly the ground control the person who asked the question, nor I, was thinking.

With the availability of online photogrammetry solutions increasing almost daily, paired with drone technology, there is an ever-increasing number of people collecting data and reporting precise/accurate results. Could the paradigm shift be achieved by a body like the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) trademarking the terms “surveying” and “surveyor” to differentiate our professional practices from that of others?

The advantages of the Surveyor® are many: 

  1. It doesn’t require any new infrastructure. The NSPS and the state licensing boards already exist.
  2. This would give NSPS a huge boost in membership, as you would need to be an active NSPS member to call yourself a Surveyor®. Together with a current NSPS membership, you would need to be a licensed professional surveyor in any states you practice. This body of united surveyors will be crucial to move forward with one voice.
  3. The public would be aware of who has the tools to provide reliable data and who holds a license to practice as a professional.

The public needs to know there is a difference between the services we offer and what other non-licensed individuals who are creating maps offer. This would help give us visibility, at the same time allowing our profession to remain exclusive.  

It’s the right time to take a step forward and trademark our profession.  We are regarded as experts by the public; now let’s keep unlicensed people from purporting to be “surveyors,” completing a “survey,” or generating “survey grade” data.

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Survey Grade? Why Hiring a Licensed Surveyor is a Good Move” Comments

  1. Concerning Kelly Ness’ article about trademarking the terms ‘surveying’ and ‘surveyor’ I think that is a wonderful idea and applaud efforts to try and accomplish that. I could even be coerced into helping. I do think there could be issues limiting its use to NSPS members as I do not think we could stop a Licensed Surveyor from calling herself, or himself, the term, or from saying they provide ‘surveying’ services, but I still think it is a great idea.

    The other day, at a GIS presentation, I said to the presenter “. . . the surveying part of my brain wants to ask ‘what are the accuracy tolerances, at the three sigma confidence level, of your smart phone coordinates for the data point?’ . . but I won’t ask you that here as we don’t have time to really discuss it”. I don’t think anyone knew what I had just said or what it meant.

    Anyway, Great idea!

    Bob Cox PE PLS

  2. I think that this is a valid solution to the problem of individuals stating surveying services while not being licensed Surveyors. My question would be how we as an industry would go about trademarking our profession and the term surveying.

  3. Good food for thought. However, we are already “trademarked” in a sense that most states prohibit a person from using the word “Surveyor” unless thbey are licenced.

    Still, I understand the public doesn’t know that and maybe the little ® might make them stop and think.

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