Damage Prevention Hero

A True Damage Prevention Hero when it comes to the Advancement of Subsurface Utility Engineering


Nick has spent the last three decades of his professional life shaping SUE standards, educating new markets, and sharing best practices around the globe.

Philip Meis, Owner of Utility Mapping Services Inc, has had the pleasure of knowing Nick for two of those three influential decades, “I first met Nick at a Utah Department of Transportation Engineering Conference around 1997 where he gave a very good presentation on subsurface utility engineering. He was leading Tampa Bay Engineering’s SUE program and was doing a marvelous job explaining and promoting what was becoming a best practice for investigating and depicting utilities for project development.”

Zembillas’s impact in SUE began all the way back at Westmar College in the late 70s, where he was an original member of ASCE 38-02 and Canadian Standard CSA 250A on Subsurface Utility Engineering. He went on to work as a utility engineer at the Florida Department of Transportation, where he helped establish the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) still used by many DOTs today.

Meis believes Zembillas gained rare skills in navigating bureaucratic barriers while working for the DOT, and that those skills have helped spur uncommon action, “Changes within government bureaucracies often occurs at glacial speeds, but Nick had worked for a DOT and understood how to encourage and implement changes relatively quickly, changes which required altering long established design processes to include SUE practices and standards.”

From the Florida DOT, Zembillas went on to serve as Sr. Vice President of TBE Group, a full-service international civil engineering and consulting firm. At TBE he quickly established a utilities division to introduce clients to SUE. He didn’t limit his influence to the United States, though, as his educational efforts spanned the globe.

Professor Nicole Metje, Professor of Infrastructure Monitoring at the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham, notes Zembillas’s prodigious influence on the UK’s own SUE guidelines, “Nick brought together the industry in the UK to lobby the Institution of Civil Engineers and the British Standards Institution to develop utility mapping guidelines in the UK. He was one of the lead authors of PAS128 sharing his experience from ASCE38; Nick has replicated these efforts in Canada and Australia as well as training others worldwide.”

In 2008, TBE Group merged with Australian firm, Cardno, and Zembillas began a role as Sr. Vice President of the Utilities Division, the largest Subsurface Utility Engineering & Utility Consultancy division globally.

In 2013, Zembillas became CEO of Subsurface Utility Engineering, a SUE consultancy with influence in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Australia.

There are a few common threads found in every stage of Zembillas’s impressive career. One, his ability to enact meaningful communication between government agencies and the private sector. He has consistently used his experience in both arenas to accelerate needed changes. Two, his tenacity. Driven by a passion for the advancement of utility mapping, Zembillas has been able to push past barriers and persuade others to join him in the cause.

“It’s not easy to tell career engineers that there’s a better way to do things that is a bit different from their conventional methods,” says Meis, “and for government agencies to spend a bit more money up front to include SUE during design stages in order to alleviate a myriad of headaches and costs during construction.”

Every advancing industry needs people like Nick Zembillas, a force of nature that not only enacts change through sheer force of will, but also by inspiring others in the industry. For many, Zembillas has done just that. He has been generous with his time, consistent with his message, relentless with his action, and the industry stands better for him being a part of it. Thank you, Nick, for your continued work in the advancement of SUE around the world.

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