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The Surveying Engineer

Attending the inaugural ASCE UESI 2018 Surveying & Geomatics Conference today was “one small step” in the right direction. ASCE has not held a surveying conference for over 25 years, yet not a single construction project around the world could have been completed without someone acting in the capacity of a surveying engineer, whether the person called themselves that or not.

As I am celebrating 50 years in the surveying engineering profession this year maybe I was lucky to have started on a highway construction project. I have done a lot of boundary surveying, but setting a property corner doesn’t compare to being a key part of a team that is building something which in some cases push the limits of 3D horizontal and vertical control to the point where new hardware must be developed to go to the next level.

That’s why I am hopeful that the efforts of the ASCE UESI will eventually lead to the recognition of the critical role of the surveying engineer. In exactly the same way as there are structural engineers and geotechnical engineers and earthquake engineers there should be a surveying engineer as a recognized specialty group of civil engineering.

Today the only way to be licensed as a surveyor is to be a boundary surveyor. That needs to change. There needs to be a specialty category for the surveying engineer under civil engineering. I have been fighting this battle for the past 40 years. It looks like we might be finally heading in the right direction.

If you are like minded please consider joining the Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute. We need your support.


  • Well said Gene…I think the importance of the surveyor for setting up initial project control can be largely overlooked. This is a critical role which requires specialty knowledge that most field crews cannot or should not attempt without proper expertise. We greatly appreciate this sometimes difficult to find knowledge and i hope to see your idea above come to fruition.

  • Gene, I cannot echo Scott’s comments enough. In fact I would take it beyond initial project control to include dimensional control throughout the construction cycle, including component installation and alignment. Modular construction methods demand a different knowledge base than is typically available with traditional surveying methods.

  • This sounds like a good idea in theory.
    But if this does come to fruition it needs to be made very clear that Survey Engineers can not perform boundary Surveys unless they are licensed to do so.
    The fear is that the lines will become blurred and then you will have Survey Engineers that know nothing or very little about boundary law doing work they were not trained to do.
    The distinction needs to he made very clear throughout the process.

    • David thank you for the comment. I completely agree, but that is not any different than an architect doing civil engineering or a boundary surveyor doing construction layout and control. You are licensed for a certain specialty and nothing more.

  • The difference lies in the inclusion of the word ‘Surveying’ in the title ‘Surveying Engineer’. This title could easily Blurred Lines.
    Since when are Boundary Surveyors not permitted to do Construction Layout?
    Usually it is the Boundary Surveyor who first establishes the boundary of a property that then assures the accurate placement of the site improvements. I’ve surveyed in 3 different countries and the surveyor has always responsible for boundary and layout.

  • In the 1950’s, land surveyors were recognized a profession distinct from engineering. Civil engineers retained some control over engineering surveying. When I stated surveying it was common to find professional surveyors who were also professional engineers. Today, that is not the case. There are more historical facets to this story, but recently the discussions have turned to concerns there are not enough qualified surveyors to do what needs to be done. Much of this has to do with decreases in the size of the surveying workforce. This can be linked to Baby Boomer retirements and 30 years of automation in measuring and mapping. The need for engineering surveying has not diminished. In some instances it has become more challenging. The fundamental issue before engineers and surveyors is to ensure that a cadre of qualified professionals is being developed. Then there is the practical matter of making this work in a diverse marketplace. In 2017, The American Surveyor published a series of articles on the economics of the surveying and mapping industry that I had a hand in creating. The facts presented in these articles offer some insights into crafting a strategy to address this issue.

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