Standard All Hazards map symbols for emergency management

March 18, 2012

Geospatial, Standards

Shared situational awareness in a disaster relies on the underlying principles of consistency across jurisdictions. Within Australia there is currently no agreed standardised All Hazards symbology set used to represent features on a map.

With extensive bushfires, major riverine and flash flooding, frequent severe storms, cyclones, major storm surges  the Emergency Services sector in Australia is experiencing growing demands for information in a spatial context to support both workforce and the public.

In 2005 a network of Australian GIS practitioners working in the emergency services, Emergency Management Spatial Information Network (EMSINA) set out with the apparently simple idea of  an agreed Australian standard with consistency in how emergency events are depicted on maps.

Project beginnings 2005-2007

The project involved a review of current Australian and New Zealand symbology practice (including the Australian Inter‐Service Incident Management System (AIIMS)), as well as the standardised approach taken by the United States Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). The resulting Australasian All Hazards Symbology report recommended 81 emergency management symbols within an extensible framework that incorporated the features of both AIIMS and the FGDC.

EMSINA is recommending the implementation of an All Hazards Symbology framework and symbol set defined by three major parameters:

Categories (defined by symbol shape, with a diamond shape for Incidents, a rectangle for Assets and a cicle for Operations),

Status (defined by line style) and


The proposed symbols are categorised into generic emergency management and hazard specific groups (e.g. Fire, SES, Biosecurity and Police for focussed revision among relevant agencies).

Some of the symbols proposed by EMSINA

It can take a long time to implement a good idea in government and the project has already moved through a bewildering list of acronyms.  In 2005 a working group was established under the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping,  ICSM. The project went through an endorsement phase with the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) and was  handed over to the Australia New Zealand Land Information Council ANZLIC . One stumbling point to broad adoption appears to governance. Within Australia there is no system or authorised body in place to manage the authorisation and management of standard mapping symbology across the varied sectors.

In a further push for adoption  in May 2011 emergency management agencies were invited to test the proposed All Hazards symbol set using a resource kit supplied as ESRI style files, true type fonts, png and gif files. As of  an update in the Biosecurity blog (July 2011), a final release of  the Australian All Hazards Generic symbol set is being developed by the Biosecurity Information Network. The release packages will include: true type fonts, gif and png images, ArcGIS Style files, Map Info Pen files, Styled Layer Descriptor and final BioSIRT code. (Contact Marg Coonan-Jones of DAFF for more information 02 6272 4422)

Sample of Asset symbols

Sample of Operations Symbols

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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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