Special Report: URISA’s 5th Annual GIS in Addressing Conference - Street Smart and Address Savvy

By Hal Reid

Day 1 - August 18, 2003

Address matching for the average business user consists of using Street Centerline files and estimates of actual position relative to address ranges. What happens when this just isn't accurate enough?

This week in Providence, RI, URISA is addressing that issue as it relates to 911 applications, Homeland Security and using addresses as a common denominator throughout the enterprise.

In the keynote address by Barbara Quinn, the administrator of the Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS) an excellent case was made for an accurate address database as the common currency across governmental entities.

Want a building permit? You better have a valid address.If you are going to do anything in Hamilton County, they know where you are going to do it.Ms Quinn had preformed what to most communities would be unbelievable. She was able to get 47 local government departments to actually work together and all work against a common accurate address database.I addition, she had brought two businesses into the fold also using this database.

For her effort, her department won the Gartner Group award for best practices as well as several others.

One of the fascinating parts of this presentation was that in a number of cases, they were experiencing a 40 to 70% payback as a result of the systems and application that CAGIS had created.

The vision that Ms Quinn presented that made CAGIS efforts successful were these three deliverables;

  1. Enterprise Information
  2. Must be push button easy
  3. Must have an organizational need
This truly a success story and it is even more remarkable that it spans both local government and commercial business.

Data Quality and Accuracy in Address Matching
In this session, the problems of data quality (poor address files) and standard methods of address matching were presented.With good files, the rate of match has gone from several thousand an hour to half a million according to Catherine Elias of GDT.

If pinpoint accuracy is not a requirement, good street centerline files, data from the Post office, Vehicle Registration and Real Estate Tax roles can provide a good database, certainly one that is more than usable for business.

However, government continues to need better address files and discussions ranged from telephone verification to fire Department volunteers physically checking addresses.

The difficulty for local governments is not just collection the address information, but maintaining it.While CAGIS had been successful in driving their address file across the enterprise, many communities have not.The problems identified were;

  • Lack of a central control for the issuance and maintenance of address
  • Common address standards
  • Difficulty in getting cooperation across departments.

It appeared as more and more communities address the problem of having an accurate address file, that these problems would tend to be mitigated.

Accessing Address Data
In this session Tom Terry, The XY Mapping Project demonstrated an alternative to the Lat/Long output of the usual geo-coding engine.This was the USNG (US National Grid) and it's application to address files, GPS, 911 and the areas of Web Mapping, Ortho Imaging and Paper Maps - with the proper grids.

A typical GPS grid output looks like this;

18S UH 1002 9514

The key part of his presentation was that the USNG provided a location mechanism that was only 2 minutes worth of instruction away from the average person using it. Simpler and easier to use than Lat/Long coordinates

A part of the presentation was the use of simple GPS receivers showing the grid you were in as part of an automobile or personal position reporting mechanism.

Sara Yurman, Spatial Focus, presented the uses of XML, GML and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as a delivery mechanism for address and address related data.Since the Web is such a universal medium for data access,

These formats allowed large address files and related graphics to be distributed easily with limited dependencies on client side software.A very neat tool is the SVG as a portable format allowing the snipping out of a section of database and graphics.The result being sent to the user who now can interact with that part of the database that was geographically relevant without actually having access to the database.

Bruce Heinrich, microData GIS, spoke about wireless Phase II and the application to 911.While providing a point reference from the users cell phone, that point was within a radius of confidence and not specifically useable as an accurate point.

He pointed out that the integration of Phase II, Ortho Imagery, street centerline files and physical address validation will provide many communities with a good address database.Part of the key was the incorporation of the building use from the Ortho Imagery so that specific reference points and potential issues could be part of the attributes.

One of the things that struck me was the difference in the address file requirements that 911 and Homeland Security have and what we need in business.There were several discussions about multiple addresses in buildings, apartments, etc., and possible the need to have not just the X and Y coordinates but the Z as well.It also appears that as these files get better and better and reach the level of CAGIS and others that once again a major government effort will trickle down to business just like the TIGER files.

One of the efforts of CAGIS was to make government more accessible to the average citizen.With the web delivery that Sara Yurman spoke about, emerging technologies such as the National Grid, Phase II wireless and even formats such as SVG will move GIS technology ahead to a new level and provide more insight to those of us who rely on GIS for business.

Day 2 - August 19, 2003 - Last Day of Sessions

The keynote address this morning was give by Raymond LaBelle, the Executive Director of Rhode Island 911.

This address, like the one yesterday by Barbara Quinn was extremely enlightening.Rhode Island is the only state that is Phase II, 911 compliant. This means that that the 911 call center will receive a set of coordinates with both the rating of confidence and uncertainty about your cell phone if you have to make a 911 call.

They have tied the key other elements together, maps, aerial imagery and site photos so that the dispatcher can pretty much tell where you are.

Fox New did a report on the pitfalls of the ability of 911 location determination and used LaBelles shop as a very positive example of how it should be done.

The Rhode Island call center take about 600,000 call a year, an average of 1,600 calls per day, and 55% of those calls are wireless.

On the wired side, Rhode Island has about 900,000 landline phones, which are all in their database and address matched.

They also product an atlas for the field, using the location information they have in the call center.This allows the responder to have basically the same info of where the call is coming from as the call center.So when the caller is asked which side of the building they are on, the info can be relayed to the responder, who can look at the atlas and visually know where to go.

It is always good to see a part of the government working well.At this conference, it was even better to see both Rhode Island 911 and Barbara Quinn's CAGIS working very well, very well indeed.

Methods for Addressing in Challenging Areas
All of us in Business Geographics have had problems with some address that just won't geocode.Some goofy address 123 West South North 32nd St Inverted, Fanbelt, IA - no zip code.

There were two presentations that addressed this problem, but from a level of difficulty not seen in business geocoding.
The first was by Ron Cramer - Digital Data Technologies and was about creating the infrastructure for 911 and other basic local government services - streets, water, etc for the Gila River Indian Community.

The central problem was that as a rule there weren't any addresses and because of privacy issues people in the community didn't want an address. Certainly, there were locational mechanisms.They had their own phone company and typical infrastructure did exist, but typical may just not have a street number.

Digital Data mapped the existing street network creating a new base map where streets connected and routing could be used.The added aerials, survey monuments and identified all the structures.There were still no address ranges for street attributes.

So, Nadine Clah, who is the cartographer for the community came up with a grid system that incorporated the seven regions, 24 districts, 598 sections (each about a square mile) and a series of pages that covered about 1/16th of a mile.The result was that they could locate someone for 911, keep the lack of address privacy and target a 3 to 4 minute 911 response time.

The second presentation was by Mary Toll and Katie Crane of the Kenai Peninsula Borough in Soldotna, Alaska.This borough has 5 cities, about 65,000 people, covers 25,000 square miles and at one point had 1,400 duplicate street names.I believe that Mary said that the area is as big as Massachusetts and New Jersey combined

They had lots of streets with Moose in the name.Because there were lots of parcels created before statehood and other factors, land locked parcels were not uncommon and so were rights of way.Addresses were random, especially outside of the 5 cities.In Alaska, a simple address range of 1 to 99 could be a very long road segment.

They, too, created a grid system to use for 911 locations, but had to live with existing address and duplicate street names.Both Mary and Katie had worked the duplicate problem and continue to do so.Of course, there is the usual notification and people seem to like their street the way it is.This is an ongoing effort and while their locational problem is not completely solved, they had provided some creative solutions.

Maintaining Address Data - Coping with Phase II
This session was a bit of a mixed bag.There was a presentation by Gary Waters - NovaLIS Technologies speaking to the need to integrate the typical local government departments around a central address database. Providing a common data model for mapping, planning, 911 and assessment. Once again, the issue of cooperation and a central address issuing authority came up.The technology is there, just not always the finesse of Barbara Quinn and CAGIS.

Sara Yurman - Spatial Focus demonstrated a collaborative groupware called Wiki Wiki, which allowed group editing and posting to a common web site.This software had the document management functionality of versioning so you could see who had done what, when.

Her perspective was that this sort of tool was ideal for address updates as it had the security features typical with group and individual privileges. It was easy to learn and teach and used a simplified markup language. It handled documents, tables, spreadsheets, and had data entry forms.There was also a free plug in for My SQL.It would also work with other databases. Sara noted that it came in a number of variations of the Wiki Wiki name and so there was more than one choice in the nature of this tool.

Joel Sobel - Census Bureau spoke about the Pitfalls of Maintaining an Address File.The Census Bureau works with a lot of address and Mr.Sobel lamented that there was no single address system throughout the U.S.

His discussion was about addresses that were tough to work with and files from communities that were all but useless.His discussion was lively, with a number of examples of how not to do address files.

It was interesting to see that he had the same issued we do in business, getting a good set of address matches to the street centerlines and not to a Zip plus four.

Verizon - Wireless Presentation
This presentation was by Kathy Cerrati and Tom Ford, both of Verizon. This was a fairly technical session about how both Phase I and Phase II work in creating a location from a 911cell phone call.

Kathy patiently explained a bucket full of acronyms that comprised the components of a typical cell phone location system.

While I found this technically fascinating, what struck me was that since cell phones will have a GPS chip by 2005, could you use this location technology for customer mining?

For example the new spam might be not on your email or some dinner time call from the telemarketer, but a call to your cell from a retailer who noticed you were physically close to the competition and wanted to tell you about a sale they were having.Last year, Baskin Robbins in Italy used a "deliver to your cell phone coupon" campaign that pumped up there sales. This was driven from a set of billboards giving the number to call.

Since when you turn on your cell phone the system updates the date and time and syncs you to the system - if you are in service range.I wonder if there is a constant feed of locational information from the GPS chip and if your were part of a group of customers for a given retailer if this couldn't provide a real time dynamic trade area map.

There are all kinds of possibilities here.Your hotel wake up call with a commercial message, coupons appearing automatically on the phone or PDA screen as you approach a retailer.

Of course, this brings up images of constant commercial message bombardment like in the science fiction movies - Blade Runner comes to mind.

Notes from the Conference
What was apparent from this conference is that in the near future, we will know where everything and everybody is.With the advent of internet2 and infinite IP addresses there will no longer be lost toys, missing books that you lent out and stuff you just can't remember where it is.

Will this open a market for resorts in GPS no coverage areas, and places where your cell phone doesn't work? Will you be able to buy on the black market fake coordinates and radio frequency white noise?

It will be great to have short response times to 911 emergencies.There will be more people saved from potential disaster.But knowing where everything and everybody is may breed a new version of Accountancy - the Inventorist, and getting away from it all may get even harder.

Published Saturday, August 23rd, 2003

Written by Hal Reid

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