Street Addressing: *Where* do you want your emergency responder?

June 24, 2011

AS/NZS 4819


Addressing is a critical need for local authorities, utilities, emergency services that depend upon finding locations. The impacts of confusing addresses or incorrect address data can be significant, effecting individuals and businesses. For example, a University has an interest in the safety of students and staff on campus, which includes ensuring that they can be attended quickly by emergency services when required. The same is true for large shopping centres and other complex facilities. Consider further the accumulated time and petrol wasted by delivery vehicles, taxis and visitors driving around, trying to locate poorly addressed properties. Pity the places in the world that do not have standard street addresses: there are some countries only now undertaking efforts to introduce them.

A street address remains one of the most fundamental and logical mechanisms for finding a place. It is deceptively simple, an inherently neat and intuitive spatial organizing device! On the ground, street addresses needs to be applied consistently across the entire state in a way that is logical and intuitive. If the experience on the ground, including signage, is clear and logical and the roads are mapped correctly, then finding an address should be easy. Every occupied facility needs correct address, regardless of whether it is public or private property. The people who live or work in a place need to be aware of and use the address correctly and consistently, and the address needs to be publicly displayed.

Not everything that looks like an address PERFORMS like an address…..

It seems simple, but there are still government offices or services facilities in Victoria without valid addresses. This is more prevalent in areas where councils manage addresses only through rates databases, in which case a ‘non-rateable property’ on public land is not considered. There are a lot of pseudo addresses out there, many even seems to ‘work’ for mail delivery or specific administrative use (e.g. for legal documents, property administration), but does the address support critical performance tests? Does it tick all the boxes, with a valid street name and number that accurately represent the main entrance to the property? Could a visitor logically use it to locate the entrance? An address, good or bad, inevitably becomes data that is reused in a variety of map products, for better or worse.

The data sets and maps….

A poor address becomes bad data that can have a long half-life, from delayed emergency dispatch, a failure to map correctly in a business online search, or in a smart-phone app. A ‘definitive’ address and street database supports the councils and other public sector bodies in delivering better services and saving costs. A good standardized address is straightforward input into the state-wide map database (Vicmap), that provides critical information for emergency services, as well as for all government and non-government service delivery. The importance of a Standard for assignment of address could easily be over-looked, unless we remember the old ‘Garbage In-Garbage Out’ GIGO adage.

Would an ambulance be able to find me ….

There are many considerations for street addressing but in Victoria we are increasingly framing the question with something to which most of us can relate: “Would an ambulance be able to find me?” Despite sometimes differing views or understanding about address, this is the ultimate performance test for an address mitigating a variety of risks is in the interest of all the parties involved in an address – especially for the occupant and general public. If you as a visitor have ever found yourself lost in a confused web of unmapped internal streets, think of the ambulance drivers. This is especially a concern in places such as aged care villages.

Despite the best technology, addresses that make no sense on the ground cannot be magically ‘translated’ into data that can be relied upon in any computer system used for emergency call-taking and dispatch. In the state of Victoria over 2.1 million addresses, including the good, the bad and the ugly, must be verified and assured against approximately one million road segments and three-thousand locality boundaries in Vicmap data. Feed the system bad data and the system cannot do its’ important job: to provide the call-taker with a verifiable address while he/she is handling the overall emergency situation.

How do you know your address is ‘good’ ?

Property managers, owners and residents may be unaware that their address is invalid and does not display correctly (if at all) in Vicmap data. A simple check available at the DSE interactive map, where anyone can enter an address and see how it displays. If there is a concern then first point of contact is the local council.

Site maps…

Sometimes managers of private subdivisions such as gated communities attempt to mitigate the risk of invalid addresses by displaying site-maps at the property entrance or issuing hard copy maps of the complex to local ambulance services. Local relationships and information sharing may help, but as the number and size of developments has risen we can no longer rely entirely on local knowledge. For example, an ambulance or other emergency vehicle dispatched from a different area may not have the map in the vehicle or the same local knowledge. Critically, if the address and road is not correctly recorded in Vicmap then the information will not be searchable for an emergency call taker using a Computer Aided Dispatch terminal: it may take longer to verify the location and dispatch an ambulance, police or fire service. Having ‘special maps’ for private developments may seem to be a ‘nice to have’, but the most elegant solution at our disposal is a street address assigned by the local government and recorded in Vicmap.


Added July 26 Jeff Thurston,  interview with Carl Hancock of Aligned Assets about recent activities in addressing  Aligned Assets Moving Gazetteer Management Solutions Forward

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About yvonnert

Extensive experience working in government spatial data infrastructure. Over ten years as a bridge maker in emergency services, with strong partnering skills providing leadership for spatial information strategy.

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