Proposed Best Practices for Managing Address Inventories

-updated 10/25/12 2:17pm-

Whether it be emergency medical response, the delivery of goods and services, tourists trying to find a hotel or restaurant, preparations for the census, or local crime analysis, the ability to find addresses is critical to public safety, economic efficiency, and government operations. The need to locate addresses accurately is growing at all levels, including of course, at the global level from within Google, Bing, Apple, Mapquest, and other mapping engines.

The process of assigning new, or modifying existing addresses is owned and managed by local government Address Authorities. This should not change as trusted local expertise is closest, the most connected, and likely the most vested to getting the information correct. And, many redundant and sometimes competing efforts are made to compile an inventory of official and unofficial physical addresses. The public and private sectors would both benefit greatly if local Address Authorities would extend their current responsibilities to provide a publicly-available inventory of physical addresses and their locations in geographic coordinates.

What follows is a suggestion for best practices that would make the most of local addressing knowledge, for the benefit of local communities, state, federal government, and private sector enterprise.

This is just a strawman and suggestions for any improvements to this proposal — in the form of additions, modifications, or simplifying/enhancing the concepts and related messaging — are encouraged.

Important Terms:

BSA — Basic Street Address. Consists of a house number, fully qualified street name including prefix and suffix directionals, street type, and the address reference system (a name associated with the addressing area, not a zipcode) that the address is found within. Building names on campus-like facilities should be incorporated into the BSA inventory.

BSA + Geo — The Basic Street Address plus geographic location coordinates, expressed in latitude, longitude or as an x,y coordinate pair in a recognized coordinate system. BSA+Geo can include several separate address point records for the same address, where appropriate, to represent access points, entrance points, and multiple structures.

Proposed Best Practices

  • The local government Address Authority is responsible for maintaining an inventory of official and unofficial BSA information.
  • The BSA information is kept together with a coordinate pair reflecting, at minimum, a 2D position of the address in geographic space.  (Unit numbers, aka sub addresses, are also worth inventorying, but introduce sufficient complexity that they are not covered in this proposal).
  • The geographic location(s) for each BSA should be accurate enough to guide emergency responders to the desired location without ambiguity with respect to ‘which structure’ and ‘from which road’.
  • The inventory of BSA+Geo is maintained through a separate business process and does not include any resident names or other personal information.
  • For new addresses, the BSA+Geo, should be updated as soon as a building permits are issued for new construction to accommodate for deliveries, inspections, accidents, etc.
  • The BSA+Geo inventory is maintained locally by a stewarding agency that is clearly identified and one that coordinates well with public safety operations.
  • The BSA+Geo inventory is collected and maintained with minimal redundant resources.
  • The BSA+Geo inventory should consist of all physical addresses but could be linked to corresponding mailable addresses where this is desired.
  • The inventory of BSA+Geo is public information*, and is actively shared via web endpoints (data file and service URLs).
  • Incentivizing states, where they are willing, to be aggregators of address data, from the local address authorities into regional, statewide, and/or nationwide data resources, is a logical approach that seems promising.
  • Web-based feedback channels exist to get issues with the BSA+Geo content to the local data steward to be adjudicated and acted upon where appropriate.
  • ‘Time to market’ for changes to BSA+Geo is measured in hours or days (ie an address inventory is a continual, not a periodic, activity).
  • Standardized metrics are compiled and published openly that track the completeness, accuracy, and currency of the BSA+Geo data content.

*Note:
The Census Bureau and US Postal Service both currently attempt to keep national address inventories. The Census Bureau does not focus on business addresses and its primary need is in preparing for the decennial census every 10 years. The USPS has an inventory of mail delivery points which includes only businesses and residences served by street delivery mail.

Unfortunately, neither agency shares their address inventories citing Federal laws that pertain to either a) information collected in conducting (not preparing for) the census survey (Title 13, Sections 9 & 214) or b) a prohibition of identifying addresses of a specific “postal patron” (Title 39, Section 412a). Take out any direct association of addresses with names of residents/patrons and the current interpretations of the laws by Census and USPS seems somewhat misguided.

With this in mind, perhaps an additional best practice would be the adoption a policy statement similar to the one shown below.

An address point record (APR) consists exclusively of the following digital information components:

  1. A descriptive street address, in a standardized format;
  2. addressing zone information (zipcode, city, and/or addressing authority) that denotes a specific area within which the address is located; and
  3. a numeric coordinate pair (latitude-longitude or equivalent) that represents the geographic location associated with the address.

An APR should be considered public information when:

  1. Local, tribal, regional, or state government has recognized the address through a formal process or for purposes of services delivery (utilities, emergency response, etc); and
  2. the APR is not provisioned with additional descriptive information formally classified as protected, private, or sensitive.  

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