Working Together To Save Lives: Emergency Responders, GIS, & USNG

Working Together To Save Lives: Emergency Responders, GIS, & USNG
September 5, 2013 Jason Dolf

Maps Make A Difference

One of the most critical assets an emergency responder can have during an emergency are maps.  Often times responders come to assist and they are not familiar with the area. They need to have maps and map data available to orient them to the current area so they can be more effective with the task at hand.  Many emergency responders are used to having maps with basic information available for incidents of all scales.

Coordination Key

What many emergency responders do not know is how much more useful these maps could be with bidirectional cooperation between them and their local geographic information systems (GIS) departments.  GIS departments, whether local, county, state, or federal, house key information beneficial to emergency responders.  Some information is as simple as road vector data, aerial imagery, utility locations, and much more.  The key to getting the information into the right hands at the right time is having a working relationship between emergency responders and GIS departments.

  • GIS professionals should take the time to introduce themselves and the services they can provide to local emergency responders.  The GIS profession holds many valuable resources to help an emergency responder in the time of an incident.  Without education, many emergency responders do not know what value a GIS department can have to them.

  • Emergency responders should seek out the help of local GIS departments and learn about the wealth of information that can be provided when needed.  The information exchange is best to begin prior to an incident, with pre-planning and preparation, but each entity can also supplement the other during the time of an emergency.

Define Location Terminology – United States National Grid (USNG)

When an emergency situation occurs all parties involved need to have a common language to communicate location and position.  Utilizing the United States National Grid (USNG) is a very simple solution.  Derived from the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) it became adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) as a national standard in 2001.  (All USNG coordinates are based on the NAD83 datum unless otherwise annotated.)  The USNG is an area as well as a point location system.  This means the system can give the coordinates of a single object as well as provide the coordinates for a grid area.  Many local agencies are using USNG to provide locations for utilities or fire hydrants.  By doing this you obtain a unique identification number for each asset and have a known coordinate.  The USNG is a simple overlay a GIS department can utilize on maps provided for emergency responders.

By empowering responders in the field with maps utilizing the USNG, these responders can relay accurate location information to other responders or the incident command post.  Then the command post can relay location information to the responders in the field using the USNG. Everyone involved knows exactly where denoted locations are.

There are many situations where the USNG can be used:

  • During a search and rescue mission the system can be used to define search areas using USNG areas and provide accurate point location information for specific items.

  • When a major disaster happens, all local street signs may be missing.  Using the USNG can provide all parties present a coordinate system on a map to allow for communication of location information.

With Maps We Can Save Time & Lives

The possible uses of the USNG are endless, but most importantly it means responders are more likely able to save time and lives.  The system is very simple to learn and is very easily integrated into existing GIS systems.  If you are looking for a unified “language of location” the United States National Grid (USNG) can be your answer.

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