Equipment Theft and Its Impact on Survey Companies

In today’s industry, survey equipment theft is a growing problem. With technological advancements forging the way for more adaptable, specialist kit; this has also come with a price tag that appeals to wandering hands. We asked SUMO’s Topographic Director Paul Williams some key questions regarding equipment theft and its impact upon survey companies.

Equipment theft and it's impact onf survey companies

Paul, what are your general thoughts on equipment theft?

It is a real issue that we see occurring time and time again. In my opinion, there is a general lack of education regarding the worth of surveying equipment as well as a lack of seriousness attached to the crime. This has the knock-on effect that the chances of recovering the instruments are reduced, due to slower response times. In my opinion, this is completely inadequate when you consider that stolen equipment is quickly moved around from place-to-place and often shipped abroad.

In addition, most reports are classed as ‘thefts’, when in my experience they could arguably be classified as aggravated robberies. Because of this, cases are often closed due to a lack of further evidence.

Are you noticing an increase in equipment theft?

Like anything, there are peaks and troughs. Although not definitive, there was a lull in reports of equipment theft over the recent summer, that I saw on social media and in the news in general. I even spoke to a representative at Korec, who expressed that they too had noticed the summer decline in incidents. We had hoped that this decrease was a result of the increased publicity of Locate to Protect (L2p) and other manufacturers attempts to install theft recovery and location tracker equipment. However, this period of decreased incidents quickly changed as I personally saw recent online reports of more than 6 equipment thefts of both Laser Scanners and Total Stations within a very close period. What’s more, SUMO fell victim to this foul play when we had a Trimble S6 Total Station stolen around the same time.

So, it seems at the moment as though there is an increase in theft, however, until there are adequate police resources available, we are quite literally on our own in most circumstances. 

Do these equipment thefts occur in certain parts of the country or are they ‘at random’?

In my experience, most thefts occur around the London area which makes sense, as there is a lot of ongoing construction. The Survey Association (TSA) produce a bi-monthly bulletin detailing equipment theft across the UK and this information is very useful to reference as a surveyor. 

Are the crimes organised?

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I believe that most survey equipment thefts are organised, in that there are often multiple thieves and in my experience, these are a group of 3 or more individuals. Furthermore, there are suspected crime groups dedicated to the theft of survey equipment. We were fortunate enough to recover a previously stolen Total Station and through the involvement of PANIU (The Police and Agriculture National Intelligence Unit formed in 2008 to help tackle the growth in stolen plant and agricultural equipment), it was believed there was an entire network organising theft across the UK. 

What impact does equipment theft have upon individual survey companies, as well as on the industry as a whole?

It has a varying impact on a company dependent upon their size, but it certainly has a huge financial impact for any business. It is also extremely inconvenient as it results in delays to the daily running of the scheduling, operations and despite our best efforts, it can sometimes affect our clients due to the time delays created. For smaller survey companies that may, for example, have just one instrument, I would expect they impact from the same daily running and operational issues. However, they may have the additional loss of their entire day’s data, which too has huge ramifications.

I have also seen evidence where companies have included additional costs to their quotes to accommodate for a security guard. However, I have also seen these quotes not being favoured by their clients because the totalled costs are much higher with the addition of security. What’s more, there will always be surveyors willing to complete the same project at a more competitive rate without the addition of security, hoping that they won’t fall foul to thieves. This cycle can have an impact on a company before they have even got to site as they have either been unsuccessful in winning the project (potentially having financial implications) or are taking extra risks in order to complete the work.

Aside from the impact on the companies, I think it’s important to remember that equipment theft has a huge influence on the member of staff who, let’s not forget, has been subjected to a robbery (which can vary in aggression).

What more can be done to prevent survey equipment theft?

Well, that is the ‘million dollar’ question!

Dare I say it, but more Police and a better understanding of the specialist nature of survey equipment is needed.

Equipment manufacturers have also introduced theft control measures such as kill switches and more. Plus, there are various other safety measures including lanyards to attach equipment to solid features such as nearby lampposts. However, it’s my experience that nothing will stop a determined group of thieves. This is especially true as there is currently little response at the time of the incident.

Eventually, the word will get around to these criminals that the kit can be tracked and traced but until then, it’s a case of highway robbery.

What are your thoughts on the impact of equipment theft? Leave a comment in the section below.