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“Left at the Golden Apple”: How Addressing Evolved and Affects the NG9-1-1 Transition Today

September 1, 2018

Believe it or not, there was a time before addresses existed. Centuries ago, people would identify structures with symbols, rather than numbers. The photo above shows a home built in 16th century Poland, and it was known as “The Golden Apple.” The original method of location identification has evolved – sometimes systematically and sometimes haphazardly – causing some concerns and issues in the current 9-1-1 system and will definitely impact the transition to NG9-1-1.

Image of golden apple address marker

Back to the history. Throughout most of Europe, it was standard practice for inn and pub owners to hang a sign with a symbol or embed the symbol in the wall over the entrance, since not all their potential customers could read. Then people could say, “I’ll meet you at the Fox and Hound,” and simply look for the corresponding pictures to find their destination. It was also a convenient way to give directions: “Turn left at the Windy Mermaid and then right at the Broken Wagon.” This system worked well enough for medieval times. But as populations and cities grew in size and geography, it was no longer effective.

Adding to that, rulers became interested in keeping track of their citizens and wanted to develop more systematic addressing. They were primarily interested in this information for the purposes of:

  • Census – to know how many people were in their lands, as well as a breakdown of the kinds of people (for example, the number of laborers compared to the number of nobles)
  • Conscription – to increase the ranks of their armies
  • Tax collection – to ensure nobody evaded paying their dues

Legacy Systems

More advanced systems began to evolve independently worldwide and as a result, there are several addressing systems now in place across the globe. Most of the United States uses one of these systems, called the block grid, though not universal. One exception is the system in Utah, which is known as a grid system. In this system, the center of a town (usually the temple square) is given coordinates of (0,0) and street names are simply numbers that increment in 100’s in every direction. Thus, given an intersection of 1500 South and 2800 West, residents would understand that this location is fifteen blocks south and twenty-eight blocks west of the town’s temple. Other countries have their own systems, each with its own quirks.

Integrating Technology

Each of these systems evolved organically, certainly without regard for future computerized systems. In today’s world, many different technologies rely on a standardized addressing system, and geographic information systems (GIS) are a prime example. Today’s public safety computer systems use geocoding to determine the location of an address within a road network, and the core of this technology is rock-solid addressing and road data. However, there are very few jurisdictions that can claim perfect data.

Each city, town or county determines its own addressing grid. But what happens where one jurisdiction meets another? Well, they don’t necessarily line up. It’s common to encounter addressing issues at city/county boundaries, or even where one county meets another. Also, city limits can change over time, so the issue is ongoing.

Looking for Solutions

The first time that many agencies encounter the severe consequences of these limitations is with 9-1-1 dispatch systems. These technologies are designed to operate as fast as possible in order to save lives – they are life-critical – and precious seconds can be wasted by searching for bad addresses. The public expects that 9-1-1 technologies will find them quickly and accurately.

Stringent requirements are in place today so that every address in the US can flow into a common public safety operating system. In the past, the mayor could simply name a street after his dog and assign his lucky number to the house. This is no longer the case. Today, we rely on a strict set of standards developed by NENA (the National Emergency Number Association) to ensure public safety computer systems can accommodate the data and direct first responders to proper addresses – a far cry from “Look for the Golden Apple after taking a right at the Fox and Hound.” There are dozens of standards documents and each can be dozens of pages, describing everything from street abbreviations to indoor room number assignments.

DATAMARK has many team members with deep expertise in addressing and GIS technology. For advice and more information on implementing cutting-edge solutions, please contact our subject matter experts at [email protected].

By: mstone

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