Addresses for the Nation

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Government Needs a Central Address Database with Map Coordinates (Points)

To Save Lives
Addresses are the most commonly used way to communicate the location of an emergency. Fire and police agencies respond to emergencies that are reported to the 911 call centers known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). The PSAPs across the nation use many different ways of locating people in distress. Address points allow them to pinpoint the locations of structures so that even at night, or in a dense fog or snow that limits visibility you can get to the correct location right away.  Going to the wrong house in the case of a heart attack can waste several minutes and cost lives.

To Save Energy & Time
Many government agencies operate large fleets of vehicles. For example, the U.S. Postal Service manages over 218,000 vehicles in the largest civilian fleet on Earth. Its vehicles are driven 4.1 million miles per day to 150 million residences and consume over 400,000 gallons of fuel each day. While the USPS routing may already be optimized, many other fleet operations are not. The use of precise address points is required to achieve the maximum efficiency in Automated Vehicle Routing software that can typically save up to 15% of the fuel and maintenance costs for a vehicle fleet and allow existing staff to accomplish their work more efficiently.

To Improve Services
Addresses are used to locate residences, businesses and other “built” locations, for the provision of nearly all government services such as utility hookups, in-home social services, licensing and permitting. The private sector also uses accurate addresses to improve its bottom line and customer service. In 2003, Sears reported that they reduced their route planning time from four hours per day to less than one for appliance deliveries and improved its customer delivery window from four hours to two in 82 percent of deliveries. Simultaneously, delivery mileage was reduced and equipment utilization and stops per vehicle increased.

Current Situation

In the first half of 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau developed a highly accurate, national address database of residential structures that included x & y map coordinates with the addresses. The cost of this effort was $444 million. Because this file is not publicly available, in 2010 the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) issued millions of dollars in grants to states to create address point files as part of their broadband mapping efforts. The U.S. Postal Service also plans to build an address point file in 2011 that will not be publicly accessible. Local governments routinely produce address point files for E-911 and other applications. Some states already integrate the efforts of local government into comprehensive statewide files. Multiple files of varying quality and completeness exist throughout the country that are based on varying standards. This has happened, because there is no national program or leadership to address this issue. Congress has contributed to the problem by authorizing agencies like the Census Bureau through Title 13 and the U.S. Postal Service through Title 39 to treat addresses as confidential information which they are not. NTIA is taking the right approach to build publicly accessible data. Agencies that must restrict access to data should be consumers and not producers of address data.

Finding Citizens in Need

Government agencies must maintain precise address locations for structures to ensure timely delivery of emergency services and for a host of other applications. This is especially important in rural areas where ingress points to properties may not be obvious, such as in large wooded lots (example below) or where road signage is not adequate. Firefighters and police officers often waste significant time searching for homes in these areas.

Precision Improves Efficiency

Currently, most in-car GPS systems and internet based mapping systems use address ranges that are associated with road segments such as the two block segment of a road in the graphic below to the left. This allows a person to find the general area of the address they are seeking. Often, the actual location of a structure can be several hundred feet from the point estimated by a GPS unit and it can even be on the wrong side of a major highway. While this approach works reasonably well for general uses, it is unacceptable for many government services like fire and police response to emergencies. Precise address points look more like the graphic in the blue oval on the right where the red “+” symbols represent the actual locations of individual structures along the street that are just evenly spaced in the blue oval at left. Tremendous improvements in efficiency can be realized by providing widespread access to accurate government address point files.

The above graphic shows evenly spaced addressing (at left) that is similar to the data used in today's GPS navigation units and ‘actual' address points for structures (at right) which are required to find exact locations. This becomes a much greater concern over long distances or when homes don't display numbers or are hidden from public view.

Address and Building Relationships

One Address with Many Buildings
- Government or business complexes, and college campuses like the one pictured below are typically located on one or more parcels and only have one address for mail delivery. Mail is distributed throughout the campus by a ‘mailroom' facility. This works well in the normal course of business, but when emergencies strike (i.e. Virginia Tech shootings), first responders must reach the right building which may not even be readily accessible from some parts of the campus. They can't be expected to know the names of each building or their placement in very large complexes. This requires a concerted effort to address each building in a campus setting, even when it is perfectly acceptable for the entire campus to be registered to one owner.

One Building with Many Owner Occupied Structures and Many Addresses
- A condominium building like the one pictured at right may use one address for each building with additional unit number identifiers for mail delivery. This works well even when emergencies strike, because first responders reach the right building and can find the individual unit. Single address with unit number modifiers are in common use and widely understood.

Steps That Need To Be Taken

A framework allowing Federal, state and local government agencies to partner on production of Address Points must be encouraged/mandated and funded. Opportunities should also exist for the private sector to participate. The following steps will promote this partnership:

  • Congress should instruct Federal agencies to jointly develop a common address point file in cooperation with state and local governments and ensure that this file will be publicly available to promote economic growth and government efficiency.

  • Congress should look at the multiple efforts of federal agencies to maintain nation-wide address data and move to eliminate duplication.

  • If a national address point file can be publicly shareable, the U.S. Census Bureau should become the data steward for this file and adhere to the new Supplemental Guidance in OMB Circular A-16.

  • If existing privacy constraints cannot be addressed, another Federal agency without such constraints should become the custodian of address points and all other agencies should obtain their information from this unrestricted source.

  • States must coordinate the development of address point files working with local governments.

  • In anticipation of the 2020 decennial Census, and to support the American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau should contract with willing States to coordinate state and local government address data activity and to provide pass-through funding to maintain local address point files. These data should be developed locally with local and state agencies acting as data integrators.

  • A national business plan for address points must be created and adopted by all Federal, state and local agencies, including a suitable data standard, data model, exchange standard and funding model.