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U.S. National Grid as the Response Language of Location

Through NIMS and ICS, the leadership of DHS and FEMA have directed the phased introduction of numerous operational standards designed to promote and facilitate interoperability for the Emergency Services Sector. Yet, to date, they are without voice when it comes to the single most important element of response – the ability to communicate “where”. As a result, we are geospatially adrift as a nation – every responder and emergency manager doing their own thing without thought about the implications of their actions.


Long ago, the U.S. Armed Forces realized that effective delivery of mission required every part of a “response force” in an operational realm (air, land, sea) had to use the same language of location. Above all other possibilities, to include latitude-longitude, the base concept of the U.S. National Grid (Military Grid Reference System) was selected for land based operations. It’s now long past due that the executive leadership of DHS and FEMA do the same thing through a national policy directive.

Submitted by in Dec 2011

Comments (71)

  1. It would be interesting to conduct a poll of the average citizen in the USA asking whether or not they believed “first responders in the United States operate using a common map grid .” That, followed up with a question “how many versions of latitude and longitude are there?” I’d bet a very large majority would indicate “yes” to the common map grid, it makes such perfect sense for so many reasons, and “one” to the versions of lat/long (and they’d be very wrong in both cases).

    To borrow from the RKB: “In a time of growing location-based services (i.e. Global Positioning Systems) there is a need to support homeland security/emergency services with better geospatial information capabilities. The Federal Geographic Data Committee's USNG standard, the official map coordinate system of the United States, provides a nationally consistent language of location that has been optimized for local applications. The USNG improves interoperability, military support to civil authorities, and reduces operational friction--facilitating crisis and disaster response at all levels--from Federal to local government.” (https://www.rkb.us/contentdetail.cfm?content_id=265370)

    NFPA recently sent the third U.S. Fire Service Needs Assessment report to Congress including the following re. USNG:
    “…the vast majority of departments with a map coordinate system have only a local system, which means the system they have is unlikely to be usable with global positioning systems (GPS) or familiar to, or easily used by, non-local emergency
    response partners, such as Urban Search and Rescue Teams, the National Guard, and state or national response forces. Moreover, interoperability of spatial-based plans, information systems, equipment, and procedures will likely be rendered impossible beyond the local community under these circumstances. This reliance almost exclusively on local systems exists across-the-board, in all sizes of communities…..”
    in Dec 2011
    1. Commercial mapping companies should adopt the USNG, too (Hudson map books, King maps, other?)
      in Dec 2011
  2. Adopted by the FGDC in 2001 and endorsed by DHS, FEMA, NGA, and USGS, but has not been operationalized by FEMA. You don't need to do much, just promote it with emergency managers and responders and provide a conceptual framwork for states and locals to make consistent maps:

    State USNG maps:

    Local USNG maps:
    in Dec 2011
  3. While in one of FEMA's HAZUS courses last month, HAZUS for Floodplain Managers, I mentioned the use of the USNG. Only a select few in my class had even heard of the grid. No one besides me had even used it in ESRI software prior to the class.

    Our course material asked us to use alphanumeric grids (A1, B2, C3, etc) in a few of our exercises. How is this even possible? Why is FEMA training emergency managers and GIS professionals to use a system that will only work in their jurisdiction or region? Natural disasters do not stop at city, county or state lines nor can alphanumeric grids provide us the information we need when landmarks are no longer visible after a catastrophic incident. In my opinion, the USNG should one of FEMA's top priorities.
    in Dec 2011
    1. I agree Kitty, FEMA should make this a REQUIREMENT in NIMS. I try to use USNG in most of the GIS mapping I do for the Henry County Missouri and also trying to get our emergency personnel up to date on USNG, but I have ran in to many brick walls. First it needs to start from the top and work its way down. The state of Missouri Homeland Security and the National Guard have produces USNG mapbooks for every county in the state https://gis.dps.mo.gov/gis/mapbooks . But the problem seems to be that they are not having major Response agencies carry this to the DEPARTMENT HEADS. I have ask Hwy Patrolman and most havn't heard of it, most fire service and EMS have had little or no training. Dispatch centers do not know what you are talking about. We have to get the major leaders to say this is what we are going to use. This should be a required course in NIMS Training and for all officals that will be in the EOC and IC and a basic USNG training class for all personnel. I have been working on training but it is hard to get the department heads to change there ways. We have 911 calls from time to time where they can not find the location and could quickly use USNG to get a accurate location. Addresses only work when they are GEOCODED correctly and street signs and house numbers are inforced. Our Lifeflight services were using Lat/Lon but the local responders have no training and do not understand that there are several ways to give location coordinates and resulting in wrong locations. Now lifeflight just ask for the closest road intersection and which direction and how far from the intersection. "USNG WORKS" and there are now dozens of tools to help us better use and understand the system if we can just get them to use it. Missouri is starting to train on USNG use for GIS and ESRI has been very helpful. WE HAVE TO LEARN TO USE (USNG) IN OUR EVERY DAY OPERATIONS.
      in Dec 2011
    2. This is a perfect example of FEMA's role in implementing this idea. The only money they need to spend is on internal training, leadership, and adjusting training curriculum. The bulk of the work will be done by state and local government making maps and integrating the maps into local training exercises. The GIS community is well positioned to respond to this and we need GIS integrated in EM/ER training anyway. FEMA just needs to open the door for us.
      in Dec 2011
  4. "Why is FEMA training emergency managers and GIS professionals to use a system that will only work in their jurisdiction or region?"
    And even in their jurisdiction or region...not very well given most don't have any standard reference whatsoever, i.e., police and fire (and their customers) in same community using different...!
    Excellent point Kitty and your "one of FEMA's top priorities" should be extended to all who believe standards-based GIS, GPS, paper maps, and a common (plain) language of/for location are critically important factors for truly integrated (life saving) ops!
    in Dec 2011
  5. Leadership on USNG is needed please. A map without a grid is just a picture. During the invasion of Grenada in 1983, US military relearned the importance of a grid when they issued travel maps without one. Today, all emergency services are operating circa 1983 with their maps. Who must tell every map maker to issue maps with USNG & why? FEMA please
    in Dec 2011
  6. Making USNG Maps on a local level is very easy to do if you are using GIS Software. With Arcmap-10 using data driven pages you can quickly create all kinds of USNG maps using your local DATA. Local Data is usually more up to date and contains far more information than downloaded layers and can easly be customized to your needs. I have created mapbooks for our county at scale 1:24000 that will easly fit on an 8.5 x 11 page and can be printed on almost any printer to scale with USNG Grids. Also 3'x4' index maps with grids for IC and EOC use. These maps are all saved in a GEO-PDF format for easy use and printing. In GEO-PDF the layers can be turned on or off to customize the maps before printing.
    I have found the hard part is getting the Officials in charge to use them. We have not had any disasters here so they haven't learned the need for coordinating and communicating location information "YET"
    It needs to be a requirement form FEMA and DHS that USNG is a Part of NIMS Training, and just like all other NIMS and Training requirement {NO LEARN, NO FUNDS) they have to maintain Hazmat training and other requirements to meet Funding Requirements why not A standard Coordinate System of Location USNG. (USNG) WILL WORK AND IT IS SIMPLE.
    A couple of quick Links to USNG Mapping that I have found Useful.
    in Dec 2011
    1. Useful links, added to personal bookmarks of disaster tools.
      in Dec 2011
    2. Here is another link:
      MGRS data to 100 meters for entire western hemisphere.
      in Dec 2011
  7. The vast majority of local level agencies and first responders do not use any sort of coordinate system - they use street addresses, intersections, and perhaps mile markers -- none of which are generally comprehensible to anyone from outside the local area.
    "The farm on the right side of the road three and a half miles past the Five Star gas station and food mart" is a perfectly good location for local responders in a rural community but is going to be useless to an outsider, even someone sent by the state.

    On the other hand, locations such as 37° 57′ 23.5″ N, 86° 7′ 12″ W or 37.956528, -86.12 or 16S 577308 4201357 are each readable to anyone who knows what system is being used.

    MGRS works. It is accurate to within 10 meters for a trained user (without a GPS) with 1:25000 scale map, or more commonly to within 50 meters with a trained user and the more readily available 1:50000 scale maps. Anyone who understands what a map is can be trained to use MGRS to achieve 100 meter accuracy in under an hour. Everyone who has served in any branch of the military is at least generally familiar with MGRS and many are experts in using it. The biggest advantage to MGRS is the universal availability of maps with a consistent grid system printed on the map. The one short-coming of MGRS is that not all civilian GPS receivers can display MGRS and for those that do, it is not the default setting so users have to know how to change the display setting of their GPS receiver if they want it to show MGRS.

    Latitude and Longitude also works. Its biggest advantage is that most civilian GPS receivers default to displaying locations in Latitude and Longitude so a large part of the current generation of young adults feels familiar with this system. Aircraft & ocean-going ships routinely use Latitude and Longitude. The major short-comings of Latitude and Longitude is that the historical standard of Degrees, Minutes, Seconds has been muddied by a the use of GPS receivers that display locations in Degrees, Minutes, and Decimal Minutes or even in Degrees and Decimal Degrees.

    The differences caused by maps and GPS receivers that may each use a different standard Datum are typically not a real problem. The differences between NAD83 and WGS84 are generally smaller than the human errors involved in plotting a location on a map or reading coordinates from a map. Some agencies might have older topo maps using NAD27 but even then the differences are not that critical throughout most of North America.

    The bottom line is that we all need one consistent system -- it doesn't really matter which system -- but whatever system we ALL use, it has to de facto (if not de jure) used by all federal assets. Both printed and electronic maps need to be readily available to government agencies, NGO's, and individuals. Personally I believe MGRS is the system which would most easily meet the requirements for availability and consistency.
    in Dec 2011
    1. USNG is the same as MGRS. The following is excerpted from CJCSI 3900.01C (see comment below): "To support homeland security and homeland defense, the federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) US National Grid (USNG) standard when referenced to North American Datum 1983 (NAD83) is operationally equivalent to and is an accepted substitute for MGRS coordinates referenced to WGS 84."
      in Jan 2012
  8. Also check out this post from Assistant Administrator Bob Fenton, including a quoted Tweet from Director Craig Fugate on this topic: http://blog.fema.gov/2011/02/great-mapping-debate.html
    With this kind of leadership at the top, where did this idea break down?
    in Dec 2011
    1. Related Tweets from Craig Fugate:
      in Dec 2011
  9. Interoperabilty is the law correct? I could be wrong... enforce it! work together or lose your funding
    in Dec 2011
    1. We are trying to implement the USNG / MGRS at the local level, but it's an uphill climb without support from FEMA. EM/ER take their cues from FEMA. Fundamentally, this is about the importance of locations coupled with basic map reading and land navigation using the USNG as the standard location referencing system. The GIS community is ready to engage, but the EM/ER community needs to ask the right questions. FEMA needs to drive those questions.
      in Dec 2011
    2. The key here is the communities eligibility for grants funding.
      in Dec 2011
  10. This may be on hold till the Block III GPS sats go online in 2014. The resolution is expected to be down to three feet from the current array of 10 feet.
    in Dec 2011
    1. right equipment will provide it now.
      in Dec 2011
    2. Creativeogre,
      Unrelated as USNG accuracy is dependent upon how much data you send. If you only have 3 m of accuracy you can choose to send 4 and 4 (12A BC 1234 5678). If you have better accuracy and need it, you can send the whole 5 and 5 string.
      in Dec 2011
  11. My personal favorite...I have a DeLorme Florida Atlas and Gazeteer and the cover brags "GPS Grids". Sadly not even USNG/MGRS but dual formated Lat/long. But then again how often have we heard "GPS coordinates".
    in Dec 2011
  12. MAPBOOKS. The one major tool that is missing is the Mapbooks for responders. In our state we have created mapbooks for the entire state but did not print them. How can we expect responders to use the system when they do not have the one tool that will work any where and any time. Training them us use the USNG system and then not providing the tools to give them the ability to locate the Incident is one of the major drawbacks to the system. They can be printed for less than $20.00 each. I relize that paper maps are Old Fashion but they will work all the time. Give a trained responder a Mapbook and a Romer scale and good radio and he has the tools to give and receive accurate location information in seconds. Now give him a basic GPS (under $120.00) and now he has the tools to get things done. The problem I have found is getting the funding for the mapbooks, they just do not want to spend the money. Paper maps are the most reliable and one of the cheapest tools we can provide our responders. Every Fire truck, Ambulance, and Law enforcement vehicle should have a mapbook for their area. Again the best way to utilize USNG is to use it in our everyday operations.
    in Dec 2011
  13. The Florida Fire Cheifs Association adopted USNG a few years ago. Classes are now tought at some of our state hurricane conferences and our Emergency Managemetn Academies (I teach for them). It is a simple and easy system to use. Our GIS folks created maps for us and I teach USNG to our local CERT teams as they are a primary source of manpower for search and rescue. USNG is a no brainer and should be the national standard.
    in Dec 2011
    1. A no brainer if and when it reaches persons of responsibilities radar then funded. Current use of roads and structures is familiar to local responders with minimal efforts to coordinate neighboring mutual aid. Instituting USNG requires change in mind set and may be difficult in small communities. Anything less than a mandate for use (even if unfunded) with ties to grant eligibility will not be effective. ESRI has in the past offered package pricing of products well withing small community budgets. If this is still the case there should be only local issues of incorporating USNG.
      in Dec 2011
  14. Please also consider the other related ideas under the "mapping" tag.
    in Dec 2011
  15. These companies added MGRS/USNG capability when asked.



    Maps must change over time anyway; so over time any jurisdiction can pull in USNG, if they knew about it. Point is: funding, though nice, is not needed to start using USNG. USNG tools are free in ArcGIS. Multiple web tools are free. Leadership & common sense is needed on this issue. Every local, state, federal jurisdiction, department, entity needs to be told what & why so that when they make their next map it has standard USNG on it. Also, air support to the ground needs to be told to use USNG (example: medical helicopters) as DoD has done. DoD started this in 1949....how far behind are the rest of us?
    in Dec 2011
  16. I agree the DOD is ahead of us map wise. But you have to admitt most of society is stuck on streets and avenues, not longitudes and laditutes. You have to TEACH them !!
    in Dec 2011
    1. I have been teaching USNG (not "longitudes & latitudes") since 2007. Every student learns it very quickly, sees the benefit and even those opposed to USNG have been converted advocates. For an untrained user, one who knows no system, USNG is the easiest to learn. As stated, the issue most lacking is leadership; which may come real soon due to this thread. The first main thrust for USNG use is responders and emergency management, per the original question. The general population can be told rather quickly over time too. There are many smartphone apps which display USNG. A local jurisdiction could easily spread USNG information to it citizens once they see the leadership push, though surely initially unfunded, from FEMA. With some minor guidance, smartphone users could be advising coordinates to 9-1-1 centers easily. Finally, to clarify a typical use, USNG would be ADDED to existing addresses when they exist, not replace them. 123 Main Street should become 123 Main Street, grid 56 73....or...123 Main Street, grid 561 739...or...123 Main Street, grid 5614 7392 for precision of 1 Km, 100 meters or 10 meters (33 feet) respectively. The responder can use whatever system works for him. Note: the examples show the power of truncation which can only be done when both sides communicating the data understand it. For locals operating in their normal area all day long this is very possible & probable. Once a large incident occurs and resources are requested from afar, the GZD and 100 Km ID must be used. Thus 123 Main Street may expand to 123 Main Street, USNG: 14S NG 561 739. With just these few characters any US Military, NATO, or USNG trained person could come from anywhere in the world to that location with no extra information, directions, escorts, etc. USNG is interoperability. See this 2009 article for more: http://tinyurl.com/cazxpz5
      in Dec 2011
  17. I agree with this concept in principal but first we have to have a national interoperable system and that dose not exist today. Each state, county and city may or may not have the same system as a neighboring community. This is extremely evident when you look at tribes in the United States. Very few of the 565 recognized tribes even have modern communication systems much less being prepared to go to narrow banding. We need to fix the command and control feature of Incident command. I agree this is an ideal thought but we are still in the teaching and funding phases of basic ICS much less starting to do geospacial projects or even to look at adopting a national standard. FEMA can't even put out a program that is funded appropriately much less create a geospacial project . Good idea but way ahead of the times.
    in Dec 2011
    1. A system from 1949 and/or 2001 cannot be way ahead of the times. Your comment seems to be about comm systems; please read the NIFOG: http://www.dhs.gov/files/publications/gc_1297699887997.shtm http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/nifog-v1-4-rotated-for-viewing.pdf
      in Dec 2011
  18. A national policy directive. Directives are only as good as the personnel and program under that policy and even then you need exercises amendments to the policy refresher training personnel data base to comingle the entitys and leadership in the subject matter and then oversight inspections in other words this is a great idea but would take omb funding and a new operational program head and the comingled data base you get the generlized idea.
    best regards:
    Patrick Owen Barnett.
    in Jan 2012
  19. Training is paramount in this effort. Basic map and compass skills should be as important as the IS-100 through 800 courses! It should definitely be a required course for ongoing Citizen Corps training.
    in Jan 2012
  20. I strongly recommend this idea, as it promotes the objective of achieving nationwide spatial uniformity in support of emergency response operations, particularly those involving multiple jurisdictions and the military.

    It can be readily implemented using the following proposed guidance statement:

    "All local, state, and especially federal agency emergency response organizations shall implement the US National Grid immediately, as a common language for geospatial position reporting. The use of the USNG as the preferred grid for emergency response operations shall be documented in the NIMS and other department-level doctrine.”

    The importance of communications interoperability has been recognized for years. What is less understood is that spatial interoperability is equally important to the response equation, to enable responders to reach incident locations with minimal confusion about where the incidents actually are. Street addresses and signs may not be useful or even available in devastated or rural areas and in situations where responders are from other jurisdictions. Just having GPS is also not a panacea, since GPS will define locations in any of a dozen or more selectable conventions, many of which are not easily referenced to hard copy maps. The U.S. National Grid (USNG) standard (FGDC-STD-011-2001) was adopted on 13 Dec 2001 by the Federal Geographic Data Committee as part of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). Its objective is to "...increase the interoperability of location services appliances with printed map products by establishing a nationally consistent grid reference system as the preferred grid for NSDI applications."

    It is relevant to note that the Defense Department has updated its operational doctrine in a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Instruction (CJCSI 3900-01C) to reflect the importance of spatial interoperability to military missions and, specifically, the use of the USNG when supporting homeland defense operations. Its actions focus on the important linkage between having and using equivalent military and civil coordinate systems in joint emergency response situations. Also, the Defense Department has recommended to DHS on several occasions that, to ensure interoperability with military units in joint emergency response situations, DHS incorporate use of the USNG into its emergency response doctrine and training programs and in its outreach to States and localities.

    This is consistent with guidance issued by the FEMA Administrator on several occasions.
    in Jan 2012
  21. meg
    While I couldn't agree more that effective incident mapping at all levels is critical and endorsing a consistent coordinate reference system is just as important, I don't believe the USNG is the right standard to get behind. We need to think beyond the domestic borders and keep in mind the reality that disasters or emergencies impacting US personnel and infrastructure is not limited to United States and her Territories. We need to endorse a standard coordinate reference system that can be utilized, recognized, trained on and applied globally.
    in Jan 2012
    1. Good comment Meg, but please note in idea post the "U.S. National Grid (Military Grid Reference System)." USNG is the functional equivelant of MGRS. One of it's major strengths is that it already is "utilized, recognized, trained on and applied globally."
      in Jan 2012
    2. And Military Grid Reference System (MGRS)is not that for what reason? What system was used in Afghanistan & Iraq for the last (10) years? MGRS and USNG are functionally the same. Previous posts reference the association.
      in Jan 2012
    3. The USNG is based on UTM and is functionally identical to the Military Grid Reference Systsm (MGRS), which is globally applicable. Therefore, the USNG IS a coordinate standard with global utility.
      in Jan 2012
    4. meg
      Absolutely appreciate everyone's feedback - the reference systems aren't identical - they're similar, so you're going to have subtle differences in the systems that yes, can be accommodated, but aren't identical.
      in Jan 2012
    5. Perhaps Meg would care to tell us HOW MGRS and USNG supposedly differ????

      Yes, any system CAN differ if the reference is to a different datum, but that is true no matter what system is used. Even if one user has a map using WGS84 and another has a map of the same area using NAD83, the differences are so small as to be lost in other errors inherent in any manual system -- the only reasonably available systems capable of achieving sufficient accuracy and precision to even tell the difference between NAD83 and WGS84 are the military PLGR and DAGR, both of which are obviously using MGRS which _IS_ identical to USNG
      in Jan 2012
  22. As an example of broad use of these maps: In responding to the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in the UK in 2001, we utilized this type of grid mapping as standard procedure, and it was extremely helpful. With multiple nationalities, and rapidly changing protocols, the grids provided a constant that minimized confusion and made locating farms and remote sites with relative ease. Strongly agree.
    in Jan 2012
  23. Steve,

    I commented on the Data Dot program with you on the teleconference.


    Having delivered pizzas for 15 years, not to mention other companies I delivered for, I came across some of the same issues you addressed on the teleconference, and as well have posted above.

    Delivered in clear and rainy weather, and even during a few hurricanes, and the road names were confusing, mixed up, and or incorrect according to the maps that were provided by cities I worked in.

    As well, I think you might find the Explorer Program as something that might help you get in touch with the youth, to get them excited in your thoughts on this critical topic.


    Feel free to look me up on Facebook :


    Or on LinkedIn :

    in Jan 2012
  24. Here is the link for the U.S. National Grid resources available from the Minnesota Geospatial Office's Emergency Preparedness Committee: http://www.mngeo.state.mn.us/committee/emprep/download/USNG/index.html. Other related resources include:
    1.) USNG maps for the entire state: http://www.mngeo.state.mn.us/USNG/maps.html
    2.) Geospatial technology and the Emergency Services Sector: http://www.epcupdates.org/
    in Jan 2012
  25. Using USNG has been a directive in the State of Florida for years. As a County EM and while with FDEM, it was all I ever used. We taught it in the FEPA EM Academy as well. I am really quite shocked that it is still being brought up as a new idea or for discussion...or maybe i shouldn't be shocked at all?
    in Jan 2012
  26. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the USNG. For all practical purposes, it *IS* the MGRS, which has been in operation by all NATO forces world-wide since World War 2. It is already a national standard, adopted by FEMA and others. There are many examples of state and local government already implementing it.

    The problem is that FEMA is not reinforcing those efforts through training, documentation, and field operations.
    in Jan 2012
  27. I pose a question.What if all power,electronics and so on are lost.Is there a backup plan for that?
    in Jan 2012
    1. Paper maps, with the USNG. The military has been using this since before GPS and electronics. Teach basic map reading and land navigation. Then, technology makes it even better, instead of being a crutch.
      in Jan 2012
    2. Backup plan for WHAT? There is zero need for any power or electronics to use USNG - just a map (which is just a sheet of paper)!
      in Jan 2012
    3. USNG/MGRS requires no power as long as you print your maps prior to the outage. It does not require a GPS or a computer to be used. See maps for (23) states here: http://mississippi.deltastate.edu/data/USNG_Atlases/
      in Jan 2012
    4. Paper maps and map books with a common operating grid (USNG) will always be important; yet another positive aspect and need for early USNG implementation. It's the "operating" part of common operating picture whether using paper, digital, combinations thereof. Interoperability. Even if the map theme, view, etc... is different between users, if the geographic area is the same different parties on each end of a communication can still easily describe point and area locations with user defined levels of precision (whether one meter or ten thousand).

      It only takes a few minutes to learn to use USNG/MGRS (read right then up just like UTM since it is based on UTM). Properly annotated paper maps include full UTM. Go to www.fgdc.gov/usng to read the standard and many other interesting....

      Check out Larry Moore's fantastic demo site (http://dhost.info/usngweb/?zoom=14&usng=18SUJ00449732&disp=h)and zoom in/out to with the different radio buttons clicked on...note geoaddress display at cursor location.... USNG is a user interface standard to make things quick, easy, to your needed level of precision. Use the mouse buttons to click on an item and show it's geoaddress.

      I hope someone else comes along and writes up a better and perhaps more understandable response to your very good question.
      in Jan 2012
    5. I wanted to extend my comment of last night with a couple more items that hopefully illustrate the basic problem as well as the solution (USNG) in terms of maps and geospatial tech. I need to find a couple things out on the Internets ;-), but let me start off with this quote from a New Orleans newspaper after Katrina:

      "Holding an oversized grid map of New Orleans, Capt. Bob Norton of the NOPD Criminal Intelligence Bureau plotted various points and discussed the difficulty in getting rescuers organized before Katrina. Despite the heroic work of individual rescue teams, the lack of coordination caused duplication of efforts, wasting time and costing lives, he said. Moreover, different agencies used different maps, making communication that much harder. The NOPD used its own zone map. The Fire Department used a map with different zones, and Wildlife and Fisheries used a state map. 'There was no unification,' he said. 'Those were hard lessons learned.'" (Trymaine Lee, Times-Picayune News).

      PS: As with hurricane Andrew, most responders coming in from outside of the area had no maps (for an area after the storm missing many/most of it's street signs). This included two Divisions of Army troops. They were left with a hodgepodge of maps torn from phonebooks or poor quality tourist and gas station maps. You could go to any phone booth in the area and the phone book map was torn out. Of course, none of the maps had an ops grid. While FEMA's first disaster GIS (I was the Coordinator) started to remedy this situation, and all such maps taken to the troops and distributed to others in the DFO (now called JFO) included a full fine-line UTM grid with principle digits around the edges, for those in the field, these maps did not begin to arrive till week two. That's of course, way too late. Still, better than Katrina's GIS years later with vastly improved tech where, according to the US Senate's Katrina report ( A Nation Still Unprepared), responders still were tearing maps out of phone books and there were upwards of a dozen map reference systems used in the DFO with many more once in the field. Gas station bingo-grids and the like....

      Next up (once I find it), former FEMA director James Lee Witt's excellent paper re. USNG from 02/2002.
      in Jan 2012
    6. In looking for Witt's paper, this excellent National Journal article from shortly after Katrina:
      Jessica Sperlongano - Which Way to the National Grid?


      "Four years before Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency endorsed a plan for the “National Grid,” a unified mapping system to help emergency responders navigate...."
      in Jan 2012
    7. Here's another short from PA-1 DMAT Strike Team - Katrina AAR.
      Unfortunately, such excellent reports for some bizarre reason are only accessible via LLIS and you have to have a batcode in order to read in it's entirety (URL at the end if you do have the credentials):
      "Strike teams should never be sent out without at least some sort of physical map of an area. This is a critical safety concern...No physical maps of the theater were provided...Management Support Teams (MST) should consider distributing Global Positioning System (GPS) units that include city- and street-level data, downloaded from compact discs (CD) if necessary, to Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) prior to a deployment. MSTs should also consider stockpiling physical maps that have city and street details and largeformat street atlases. This can help DMATs better navigate through local disaster areas during deployment, thus increasing efficiency and the safety of team members...Due to problems with navigation, a reported 6-hour drive took 12 hours.”(PA-1 DMAT Strike Team - https://www.llis.dhs.gov/docdetails/details.do?contentID=21969)
      in Jan 2012
    8. Still looking for Witt's paper, but guess what some of the very first quetions were from the professional media immediately after Katrina?

      August 30, 2005 (Katrina day two) NewsHour With Jim Lehrer interview w/ "deputy director" of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Patrick Rhode)


      JIM LEHRER: There are still people trapped and unaccounted for, is that correct?

      PATRICK RHODE: We believe that that is correct. Unfortunately it's going to be a couple of days of going through and making these very, very difficult assessments in the most damaged areas before we can truly know what we're looking at.

      JIM LEHRER: Is there a system for doing that? Have you all worked out a grid system of some kind for checking out every place?

      PATRICK RHODE: That's something that we're working on right now with both the cities and the states as we go through this. We're really relying upon a combination of their intelligence and also our intelligence....
      in Jan 2012
    9. James Lee Witt's USNG paper (02/2002) is no longer on the now evidently defunct ComCARE Alliance's web (ComCARE.org), but I did find the .pdf on another site ( http://www.emergencymanagement.org/USNG_JamesLeeWitt_ComCARE.pdf ) and have pasted it below even though formatting gets messed up (note especially the final paragraph, it remains as true now as then and time keeps a ticking by...):

      Implementing A Common Frame of Spatial Reference For
      Homeland Security, Emergency/Disaster Response,
      Recovery, and Mitigation
      The U.S. National Grid (USNG)

      From the Hurricane Andrew GIS Coordinator’s after-action report to the Center for
      Army Lessons Learned, 10/06/92

      “General information type maps with no UTM grid, in an disaster environment without street signs, few recognizable landmarks with no response specific data were very nearly useless… An actual accounting of all the requests for emergency assistance that went without, or the delay encountered by the countless movements of personnel, food, and equipment will likely never accurately be tallied….”

      (USNG is based upon UTM.)

      The Same (Map) Sheet of Music: Following the troubled 1992
      Hurricane Andrew response, the U.S. Military in its 1993 “capstone
      doctrine” for domestic support operations (FM 100-19) termed the
      need for establishing a common frame of spatial reference among
      both military and civilian entities as “critical.” In a similar vein,
      every activity related to incident response, from command and
      control, logistical support, to informing the public is related to
      location…the location of things, events, and people. A converging
      issue has been the multitude of local jurisdiction protocols for
      describing location. These run the gamut of too often confusing and
      ambiguous street addresses, local grid references, call box alarm
      systems, Public Land Survey System (PLSS), State Plane Coordinate
      System (SPCS), one of three varieties of latitude/longitude, and
      other disparate methods. Of these systems, only latitude and
      longitude readily work with low cost Global Positioning System (GPS)
      receivers, but it is not well adapted to large-scale mapping. To
      overcome interoperability problems inherent in the multitude of
      previously mentioned reference systems, the Federal Geographic
      Data Committee (FGDC) adopted the U.S. National Grid (USNG) in
      December 2001. While FGDC standards only directly impact Federal
      agencies, the national grid offers tremendous potential for voluntary
      interoperability at all levels of government. The national grid can
      serve as a supplement to legacy systems or by itself. Only the
      national grid provides ubiquitous and precise geospatial
      interoperability with the National Guard and other military resources.
      It provides true nationwide geolocation consistency. The USNG is the
      solution to the “critical” need for a common frame of reference
      across multiple jurisdictions.

      In either a tactical or strategic sense, the USNG is a “must have” for
      several reasons. It reduces confusion among GPS manufacturers,
      users and map producers as to formats. It reduces training for map
      users to a single, mature, flexible, easy-to-use system. It ensures
      interoperability of geospatial information among different response
      organizations and their equipment. Information technologies (IT)
      used for the Incident Command System (ICS), fireground Personnel
      Accountability Systems (PAS), firefighter Personal Alert Safety
      Systems (PASS), emergency vehicle transponders and much more
      will grow in their reliance on location services, and thus the national
      grid. Logistically, a national grid ensures that equipment purchased
      by the multitude of agencies and government at all levels will be
      interoperable, regardless of where they respond. When our excellent
      National Urban Search and Rescue Teams are dispatched to a
      location anywhere in the country, they must have maps and
      compatible reference tools they are familiar with and can easily use
      in concert with local officials. The same applies when military
      bio/chemical response elements, such as the 4th Marine
      Expeditionary Brigade and similar Army or National Guard units
      deploy. They require reliable geospatial information that is
      immediately interoperable between responding outside units and
      local authorities. One lesson our professional warriors have learned
      through bitter experience, is that interoperability of IT systems is
      essential. The foundation of their Common Operational Picture (CIP)
      is geospatial information, and all forces must operate with the same
      reference scheme or risk the loss of lives and resources. This is the
      reason a Soldier or Marine from any two units can come together
      from anyplace on the globe, and immediately exchange
      unambiguous knowledge on where the other is located. They know
      their maps will all have the same grid reference system, which they
      have all been trained to use, and will be in all of their GPS receivers.
      Establishing a common spatial data standard for civil responders is
      the right choice, and now is the right time. In this case it’s just as
      easy as “everyone set your GPS to USNG (aka MGRS) - NAD83.”

      This Nation faces a variety of threats that require an integrated
      command and control system that can respond to incidents across
      multiple jurisdictions. These responses will involve an increasing
      number of agencies and organizations. All three versions of ICS for
      catastrophic events become nearly impossible to implement
      effectively without a common frame of spatial reference. The USNG
      is a key part of the solution. In another excellent example of
      leadership coming from the White House, the Office of Science and
      Technology Policy (OSTP) Director, The Honorable John H.
      Marburger, III, recommended in testimony to the U.S. Senate that,
      “…we should promote voluntary standards that enhance the effective
      coordination of disaster responses, such as the U.S. National Grid
      map standard for geospatial information systems.”

      A Public XY Mapping Project study of Washington D.C., found 25 different
      large-scale street maps were commercially available, and on these maps, there
      existed 21 different coordinate systems. Of these grids, none worked with readily
      available, low-cost consumer GPS receivers.

      Others have responded similarly. In a letter to the FGDC regarding
      the USNG, FEMA wrote, “the FEMA program offices anticipate that
      the use of this system for identifying locations among emergency
      management personnel and agencies will help save lives, reduce the
      costs of disaster, and enhance preparedness, response, recovery,
      and mitigation efforts. Particularly valuable is its compatibility with
      the system used by the National Guard and others, the Military Grid
      Reference System (MGRS).” The Spatial Technologies Industry
      Association (STIA) wrote, “in addition to its commercial benefits, we
      strongly believe adoption of the USNG standard will dramatically
      improve ease of use for GPS equipment and applications in
      nationwide E-911, general emergency response and disaster
      response. Having recently sponsored a forum with ComCARE Alliance
      on how spatial technologies such as GPS can enable E-911, the STIA
      is a strong advocate for their effective implementation.”

      Local initiatives are already underway with the national grid. The
      State of Utah only days after 9-11 made the decision to adopt the
      USNG standard to the extent practicable while it was still in draft.
      Fairfax County, VA, is developing a pilot project with the USNG for
      parcel identification and other uses. George Mason University, VA
      has a web site using the national grid for infrastructure management
      and public safety. In a 13 county area around Cincinnati, OH the
      national grid is being used as a related spatial descriptor for
      addresses and features such as manholes, water valves, fire
      hydrants. Other initiatives are underway.

      Issues: The national grid is an initiative that can be rapidly
      implemented. To do so, a variety of issues must be dealt with. The
      first issue is for local jurisdictions to decide to implement the national
      grid for disaster response and public communications. A manager of
      a local government Enterprise GIS may see a conflict between the
      national grid and the Enterprise’s use of another grid and projection,
      such as the SPCS. Local managers must recognize this is not a
      closed enterprise issue, but one the public must also access, and the
      public cannot use SPCS. For example, SPCS is too complex and is
      not carried on low cost GPS receivers used by the public. In the
      Fairfax County example cited above, managers recognize the
      compatibility of goals for their Enterprise (which uses SPCS) and the
      public at large. Another issue is educating the public, emergency
      service organizations, and others on how to use the grid, and
      providing the tools they need to use it. These tools include paper
      maps and web enabled information resources such as the GMU web
      site. Education of users is a simple task. The national grid has
      proven easy to use at even the 5th grade level with minimal training.
      Between times of crisis, users will find properly gridded maps with
      the national grid make their daily travels easier and remove
      ambiguity regarding where places of interest are located. There are
      no great technological challenges here; the military has used the
      MGRS (same format as USNG) for more than 50 years. The largest
      vendors of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the U.S. will
      soon release automated tools for communities to implement USNG
      on their existing map products. For example, Environmental Science
      Research Institute (ESRI), is integrating this capability into its
      product lines. This market penetration alone will reach the GIS in
      more than 70% of local, State, and Federal agencies (and all across
      the Internet). Another issue is datum conversion. Numerous
      Enterprise GIS remain on North American Datum 1927 (NAD27) and
      must move to NAD83. For a truly National Spatial Data
      Infrastructure to come about, one that is interoperable across all
      levels, this requirement is essential. The alternative will be the
      continued potential for loss of life and hazard to safety of navigation.

      Recommended Actions:. Consider the following, add to the list,
      and pass it along:
      • Publish local maps and indexes with the national grid format.
      Make these available to the general public as well as public
      agencies. Include the national grid on;
      o Any ‘disaster response series’ maps your local
      government has prepared.
      o Enhance existing maps such as call alarm box system
      maps with a full fine line national grid. Localities can
      continue to use their own unique reference systems, yet
      are then prepared for responding outside agencies who
      are unfamiliar with it.
      o Exercise maps related to community security, disaster
      planning, training, and exercises by all entities working
      homeland security.

      • Make USNG based geoaddresses part of the officially
      recognized identification for parcels and buildings such that it
      supplements street addresses and is included in official
      databases. GIS techniques can automatically determine parcel
      geoaddresses in a batch process as demonstrated in the GMU
      web site initiative.

      • Help educate the general public and your local emergency
      responders on how to read and use the national grid in a local
      context. The public should know how to use USNG coordinates
      for providing the location of their residences, or for when they
      are in a transient/tourist status. It should not matter to them
      whether their incident occurs in their home on the East Coast,
      or while on vacation in the middle of Wyoming. In either place
      they should be able to tell responders where they are and what
      they need without ambiguity. To this end, use currently
      available resources such as the National Guard to teach your
      community responders and disaster workers how to use USNG
      map products.

      • Use the USNG geoaddress in your daily activities. Add the
      geoaddress for the entrance to your building to your business
      card. Stipulate in statements of work that USNG will be
      incorporated in products and services, especially for E9-1-1.

      • Emergency plans should be updated to include USNG
      coordinates in addition to street addresses for locations.
      USNG coordinates serve as the geoaddress to supplement
      street addresses. Away from the road network or after the
      street signs are gone (as in Hurricane Andrew), the geoaddress
      may be the only one available.

      The reward for using the USNG will be large. The cost of
      implementation is small and the risk low. It is an IT requirement for
      our Nation as we enter a new age of increasingly available spatial
      information for responders, planners, and the public. The
      requirement becomes more urgent as large dollar resources and
      effort are directed towards homeland security. Standards such as the
      USNG are best served early before the main course.

      James Lee Witt, President James Lee Witt Associates, former Director
      in Jan 2012
    10. Did you know the USNG standard was developed and worked over several years through the FGDC process by a group of private citizens (The Public XYProject)? Volunteers performing a critical civic function (and a responsive government that opens such ideas for public comment and review (back in the late 1990s) and then adopts them as National standards) is just one thing that makes this country a superb place to live and as we hopefully as a society improve.... The Public XYProject, and no, sadly I was not a member, was composed of some of the greatest mappers and techological innovators of our time; some involved in the creation of our modern GPS.

      That said, If I were to use instances in the media from everday emergency responses gone bad to "location" gone bad, I'd be here all day ( http://www.epcupdates.org/2011/12/lost-on-way-to-fire.html &
      http://www.epcupdates.org/2011/08/9-1-1-carnage-continues.html ). So, just two more comments (California 2007 Wildfires will be last) in reply to "is there a plan for that," pointing in my humble opinion to the fact that all of our plans could borrow (heavily) from the most effective users of geospatial technologies on the planet, our taxpayer funded US Military.

      This from USMC CHEMICAL BIOLOGICAL INCIDENT RESPONSE FORCE 06/2005, approved by all od DoD incl SECDEF and NORTHCOM ( http://www.emergencymanagement.org/RRL240.txt ):

      Requirement Type:
      GEOINT Standards and Specs Functional Description of Requirement:
      (U) Request that NGA engage with appropriate U.S. civil authorities to facilitate the implementation of grid coordinates in Homeland Security operations.
      (U) To minimize operational friction during military support to civil authorities, USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) based at Indian Head, MD requires the ability to use and exchange standardized map coordinates. The lack of a similar, standardized procedure by state, local, and many Federal Agencies is a critical deficiency in U.S. consequence management.

      Performance Characteristics:
      (U) Standardized map coordinates must be equivalent to Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) when referenced to North American Datum 1983 (NAD 83) or World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS 84), U.S. National Grid.

      Current Capability:
      (U) The United States National Grid (USNG) is the U.S. civil standard grid reference system, but is not used in operational activities for Homeland Security. Certain agencies use their own atlas grid, which are incompatible with DOD doctrine, training, maps, C2 systems, and GPS receivers.
      (U) While street addresses are important, they have innate operational and geospatial shortcomings and do not enable the use of GPS. In some scenarios, street-addressing infrastructure will be destroyed and we must plan accordingly.
      (U) When coordinates are used, it is often various forms of latitude and longitude. These do not support operational requirements and are not compatible with maps and training standards.

      (U) To improve support of interoperability, command and control (C2), in the exchange and reporting of geospatial information in Homeland Security operations.
      (U) The operational use of many different coordinate systems causes significant operational friction, particularly in homeland security and disaster relief operations.

      Impact if not Implemented:
      (U) CBIRF's ability to respond to threats within the United States will continue to be severely hindered. There will be continued friction in Homeland Security operations in describing locations unambiguously.

      Customer Design Constraints:
      (U) Must be a standards based solution. The United States National Grid (USNG) is the U.S. civil standard grid reference system and presentation format for large-scale mapping, per Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) standard FGDC-STD-011-2001. The USNG is functionally equivalent to Military Grid Reference System (MGRS).

      Recommended Solution:
      (U) That NGA engage with appropriate U.S. civil authorities to facilitate implementation of grid coordinates in Homeland Security operations. The intent of this requirement is not to replace street addresses as used by some agencies, but to supplement them with coordinates for civil response operations.

      Customer Comments:
      (U) This requirement strongly supports the need for NGA to engage with appropriate US civil authorities and extend to them the knowledge and benefit of DoD operational experience in the use of grid coordinates. The essential need for a single, standard coordinate system - as a communications medium (a language of location) is a new concept in the US civil community. Having a single grid reference system reduces training requirements and ensures frictionless exchange of location information between all committed forces and agencies. Based on hard earned experience in combat, all US ground forces are trained in the use of a single system - MGRS (equivalent to FGDC's USNG) for large-scale mapping applications. All large-scale hardcopy maps (>1:1,000,000-scale), Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, and digital systems are designed with a single, standard grid - MGRS. This ensures interoperability and frictionless exchange of positioning information between people as well as machines. - USNG has a minor difference between it and MGRS although both generate equivalent values when referenced to WGS-84/NAD83. NGA must ensure USNG (as the US civil equivalent to MGRS) is integrated into GEOTRANS. This capability was requested via NSG Requirement FY08-13 306. - NGA needs to proactively provide the software to integrate MGRS and USNG into commercial products. This includes the capability to print MGRS/USNG grids on paper maps by commercial software vendors. This software code is already in NGA's possession.

      Location Affected: NATIONAL


      Validation: Validated

      Validation Date: 9/28/2005

      Validator Name: D, M

      Validator Comments: This is a validated USMC requirement to support Marine operations in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and state/local authorities. The geospatial capabilities stated within this requirement will help to improve the interaction and coordination of military and civilian authorities to utilize a common reference system.
      in Jan 2012
    11. Shortly after 9/11/2001, the President's science adviser, the Honorable John Marburger, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, identified the implementation of the USNG as “one of the three most important immediate steps that the Government could take to improve homeland security.” ( http://www.emergencymanagement.org/USGSmemo.national.grid030923.pdf )

      Marburger provided similar testimony to the US Senate Homeland Security Committee in December of 2001, with the then new FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, sitting at his side.

      It only makes sense. What on God's green earth is an emergency management agency good for if not at the very least getting folks to use a common map grid? Set all their new fancy fandangled technology to the same reference system (USNG is in many Garmin and low cost consumer GPS an almost all GIS). Use a common language, ESPECIALLY for the location of people, places, things....

      Some agencies like USGS stepped up and worked the issue as well as they could, but they can't do it alone, especially as Congress takes a sword to their budgets while leaving DHS (who hasn't lifted a finger to implement USNG), in relative terms, alone.

      Agencies like the US Forest Service have been lost, literally, and just as with the Space Shuttle Columbia debris recovery mission are likely still arguing over which version of lat/long to use when for ground pounders none of them are the standard, and have major shortcomings (GIS and GPS Emergency Response Lessons Learned from the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster: http://www.joe.org/joe/2003august/iw1.php ).

      This leads me to the Initial Impressions Report - Southern California Fires 2007: What we learned, how we worked ( http://wildfirelessons.net/documents/2007_SO_Cal_ICT_FINAL_REPORT.pdf ).

      Just one single paragraph under the Tactics and Strategies section speaks volumes and harkens back to the US Forest Service's seeming inability to work with it's partners, like FEMA, to fully implement standards to ensure interoperability: “Maps were the key pieces of intelligence that were needed early on, but many crews did not have them. Several respondents reported coming across new neighborhoods that were not on the outdated maps they had. 'Thomas Brothers' maps were the most uptodate and were used by some of the departments for dispatching to 'Thomas Brothers' map coordinates. Crews said they needed more of these maps from the beginning.”

      Obviously, fire crews like/need gridded maps, but Thomas Brothers? Another local bingo grid? Of course, at the time, those responders if they'd used USNG maps would have said the same thing only "USNG." These professionals, almost without exception when the related issues are known, quickly agree with the urgent need for USNG. Many are also military veterans and express some real frustration with their current capabilities.

      Thomas Brothers maps will only give area designations down to I think about a quarter mile; won't work with GPS; and like New Orleans, not everyone will be using them. Certainly when a large earthqake hits California, outside responders like our National USAR Teams will be using the standard for common ops, USNG.

      The same paragraph highlights once again one of the major issues found on literally every large and many small events, a lack of (professional level) maps available for responders to use (something GISers are eager to solve and should do so using a standards-based process, see http://mississippi.deltastate.edu/ and http://www.fgdc.gov/usng).

      Leadership is called for in the emergency services sector. This issue will never go away until USNG has been implemented. Think about it.

      Never mind, widespread use will only improve the user interface experience in say our cars, voice controlled GPS, where selecting a location to navigate will become as easy for the general public (Toyota's GPS interface is just horrible) as it is for our warfighters today... in Afghanistan.

      Take good care.
      in Jan 2012
  28. Updated earlier comment -- There are a number of geospatial software applications that are currently available to support Situational Awareness, Decision Support, and a Common Operational Picture. There are high end/high cost software like ESRI and WebEOC, but there are also some very full featured/low cost software (e.g., Depiction), most of which are interoperable with other software. Depiction (www.depiction.com) can utilize shapefiles and georeferenced spreadsheets in various coordinate formats, e.g., USNG, lat/lon and others and convert between them for import, display and export.
    in Jan 2012
    1. Respectfully sir, can you change the grid on a paper map after its been printed? The confidence expressed by some, that of being able to translate data...etc...in the midst of an emergency or disaster, does not a solution make.

      Read this testimony from NSARC ( http://goo.gl/kGt7o ) to the NTSB. All sorts of incidents that like Trooper 2 were located in areas with hundreds of millions of DHS dollars invested in their newly upgraded geospatial this and that tech empowered EOCs. Some in the very downtown areas of our principle cities for "everyday" type emergencies.

      Here are a couple more resources from FEMA in created in cooperation with folks from FL, MN, WI, MS and others:
      http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/git_usng_intro.pdf (page two especially from the Florida Statewide Emergency Response Plan (2010) - Appendix I)
      http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/campus_map_usng.pdf (NETC Campus Map on page two)
      in Feb 2012
  29. I have to wonder what is wrong with this FEMA Think Tank sofware. I consistently get emails about new comments posted and those emails supposedly contain a link to view that new comment - but that link goes to the top of the page, not to the comment and a careful search of the entire page often totally fails to find the comment quoted in the email (searching both manually and using the browser's own text search for key words in the quoted comment).

    For example, this morning I got an email telling me about a comment "There are a number of geospatial software applications that are currently available to support Situational Awareness, Decision Support, and a Common Operational Picture. There are high end/high cost software like ESRI and WebEOC, but there are also some very full featured/low cost software (e.g., Depiction), most of which are interoperable with other software -- using lat/lon as the common language" but THAT comment does not appear anywhere on this page.
    in Jan 2012
  30. All,
    Per the request of one of yesterday’s listeners, a transcript of my comments can be found at the following link:


    In addition, I have also offered what I believe the greater USNG user community would say are the recommended next steps for FEMA at the following link:


    Best Regards,
    in Jan 2012
    1. FEMA, this is requested: A simple one page policy/public statement issued by Director Fugate which states effectively the following: "All local, state, regional, tribal, federal organizations, departments, jurisdictions, entities and their vendors shall incorporate US National Grid, in accordance with the existing standard, into their routine daily operations, emergency operations and into routinely issued and special purpose maps, displays, software, documentation, training programs, references, etc. as soon as possible for the direct purposes of geospatial interoperability for ground-based operations." Why is this needed? There is not a simply stated requirements document anywhere that encompasses all users that need to know about USNG. The lessons are long-ago learned, the after action reports long ago written. Maps are being made or revised every day with bingo grids. Do all the map makers and users know about the value of and reasons for USNG? Some progress will have been made when we can all walk into a 7-11, Staples and Office Depot and every map of the vast array of maps clearly depicts USNG. Some progress will have been made when the display of the locations of a cell phone call on an E9-1-1 screen is to the nearest 100 meters or perhaps less such as: 14S PH 436 124. Some progress will have been made when most commercial vehicle GPS receivers display USNG constantly in a corner of the most popular screens. Some progress will have been made when most computer aided dispatch software for fire, EMS, taxi's, trucks and florists include clearly depicted USNG with each street address. The list of eventual minor successes could go on, but first some help is needed to lead many more people to USNG.
      in Jan 2012
    2. usng08 is right that we need a clear policy statement from the director on the use of USNG. The (actually more likely) alternative is either an executive order or a congressional action that prohibits the use of federal funds for any new GIS development or installation that does not include USNG support.

      State and especially local agencies frequently don't care what the national "policy" says -- but they all understand federal dollars!
      in Jan 2012
  31. Community Member,

    The short answer is yes. A field searcher could always return to the true and tried land navigation skills – compass, scale, and map. A paper map (with a USNG grid overlay) with say a 5000 scale would show enough “structure” in the area (water towers, buildings, etc.) for a searcher to arrive at a defined USNG grid coordinate using a compass and a scale configured for USNG. I use a Romer Scale V7.

    Additionally, from yesterday’s call, regarding getting USNG institutionalized in the nation, there were several recommendations for getting it into the curriculum of numerous organizations. If it has already been suggested, sorry, but it may be beneficial to approach the USCG, TEEX (Texas Engineering Extension), and a host of trade organizations to include USNG in their Wide Area Search Planning and Management courses. There are a number of wilderness S&R organizations that teach search theory and management of search operations. Dr. Donald Cooper comes to mind. Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has training standards for technical rescue (NFPA 1006 and 1670) that include standards for technical search and rescue, generally associated with water or structure collapse, but not solely. While NFPA does not publish curriculum, it does publish the individual rescuer or agency standards that have to be met to be compliant with the standard. Discussions about future revisions have included adding a separate search skill component to the standards. Having NFPA identify USNG as the example grid system in the standard would go a long way to getting it institutionalized in the fire service. Someone else will have to suggest the equivalent national standard for law enforcement.
    in Jan 2012
  32. As municipal utility manager who uses GIS products on a daily basis, and often in collaboration with adjoining communities for both planning and emergency response, I can attest that map products from our neighbors do not nicely match up with our maps, nor do they even use common datum or common versions of lat/long. USNG is so incredibly easy to "snap" to a location with 10-meter accuracy without anything more complicated that a USNG map and a slightly practiced 'eyeball.' This needs to be a universal standard. Our GIS department uses latitude/longitude in the DDD MM SS + compass direction format for everyday locations, however unless we adopt a universal method that can be accessed in an emergency without digital technology and use it on a daily basis, it's not likely our GIS staff and everyone who's grown accustomed to using Lat/Long the last 30 years will want to change when the 'balloon goes up.' I welcome a national standard we can all work toward together.
    in Feb 2012
  33. USNG advocates & FEMA, read this: http://www.epcupdates.org/2012/03/nsarc-designates-usng-as-land-sar.html Search the Land SAR document for "USNG" to see those specifics. The document has many other subjects of potential interest.
    in Mar 2012
  34. Very interesting discussion. I had not heard of the USNG until now, even while using GIS on a daily basis and constantly working in various projections, datums, etc. FEMA is supposedly moving to the Web Mercator Auxiliary Sphere projection in its new National Flood Hazard Layer which is being stood up shortly. This is supposedly being done to be compatible with Google Earth, Bing, and now ESRI. FEMA is gearing its flood-related GIS layers to the communities for NFIP purposes, not for a NIMS/ICS DHS related purpose.
    in Apr 2013
  35. Great thread! Thank you all for getting me up to speed on this!
    in Apr 2014
  36. I have implemented the USNG within my organization of 250 first responders in southern California who are dispatched using UTM coordinates, which IS the USNG essentially, and we do it on every single 9-1-1 call. I believe the reason we had success is because our GIS section had already made 1535 maps, covering 1535 1km grid cells, using a mapbook software, each page was chronological by UTM coordinates; each 1km grid cell a 1:5,000 scale map page was found to show address/street detail. Technically nearly all GIS systems offer coordinate systems in UTM or at least the ability to show UTM. Dispatch technical issues were easy, geocode address, calculate UTM coordinates, truncate to 1km. With a 1km coordinate called out over the radio all responders know the page in the map book, and additional address inforamation allows the responder to search the map book page for street/number. We don't ecplicitly tell the engine the point locaiton, we say here's the 1km truncated UTM coordinate. You want the overall page to see surroundings anyway, so directing the responder to a page that happens to be ordered by easting and northings ushers people into the grid system. when you add a locator map, grid overview, it begins to sink in. At first people didn't get the coded metric of Eastings and Northings, and even those who still don't fully understand UTM at this point don't care. When a four digit number is read aloud over the radio or on an MDC, it is understood that the number is a page in the map book.(we don't change zones to make things easier it is only easting and northing- 1km) In short, success is not measured by how well everyone understands the USNG. If the grid becomes nothing more to some "old-timers" than an ordered number of map book pages, still others will learn and appreciate the more sophisticated uses and implementations down the road. The metric system included.
    in May 2014
  37. I should add...the more sophisticated uses that are not mentioned in this thread, and I'm surprised, are Measurement Properties. Why do utility companies that use UTM/USNG enjoy the benefits of meeasuring powerlines, pipelines, roads, anything straight line oriented? Because it is almost elementary math to be presented with two USNG coordinates and use simple subtraction to tell you how far apart two objects are. the beginning coordinate and ending coordinate of a straight pipeline section communicates the objects total length. Most americans, although bereft of the metric system in education, can still estimate a football fields (3 of which is almost 1km)or a meter, so when broadcasting your location in UTM you can easily track your travel progress, and especially important estimate a location in the distance. (To abbreviate 12S 565234mE 4325782mN coordinate, the left-most 5 (100,000s digit) from easting is omitted along with left-most 4 and 3 from northing (100,000s and 1000,000s digit). The grid reference can then be stated as: GR 6525 defining a 1000m x 1000m of 1KM square (accurate to within 1000m)) for example: If I am at 11SKU 3400mE 3400mN, and I see smoke five or six football fields to my east, rather than guess the lat/long I can estimate the distance east and north and report smoke at 11SKU 3600mE 3400mN. Immediately all persons on incident can measuer their own distance to the coordinate. You cannot easily do this with any lat/lon coordinates.
    in May 2014

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