2014-05-24 / Top News

House Numbers Are Key to City’s Mapping Project

On the Island, Correcting Street Signs And Numbers Could Speed Rescue Response
By Stephanie Fortino


In this late spring photograph, a snowmobiler makes the turn from Main Street to Fort Street in downtown Mackinac Island Wednesday, April 2. The sign posted at the corner, however, reads “Huron Street,” the old name of the downtown thoroughfare. The incorrect street name was pointed out as the Island’s digital map for Enhanced 9-1-1 services was being updated. An effort is underway to improve inaccuracies on the map, to aid rescue crews in finding various locations on the Island. New signs were ordered to be installed in time for the tourism season. In this late spring photograph, a snowmobiler makes the turn from Main Street to Fort Street in downtown Mackinac Island Wednesday, April 2. The sign posted at the corner, however, reads “Huron Street,” the old name of the downtown thoroughfare. The incorrect street name was pointed out as the Island’s digital map for Enhanced 9-1-1 services was being updated. An effort is underway to improve inaccuracies on the map, to aid rescue crews in finding various locations on the Island. New signs were ordered to be installed in time for the tourism season. An effort is underway to update digital maps with all of Mackinac Island’s addresses and trails and merge the information into the county’s Enhanced 9-1- 1 system. The map improvements will help emergency dispatchers better direct rescue crews, increasing safety for everyone on the Island. For now, though, about 27% of buildings, including many homes, do not have address numbers posted, some display incorrect addresses, and some city street signs bear the wrong street name, or are missing.

“Mapping is a vital portion of 9-1-1 to assist in location, verification, and directing responders to an emergency,” said 9-1-1 Coordinator Bryce Tracy.

When central dispatch receives a call at the Kinross enhanced 9-1-1 dispatch office, information displayed on the dispatcher’s monitor includes telephone number, street address, and location on a map, which is all verified with the caller if they are able to speak. In a basic 9-1-1 system, there is no automatic database and dispatchers must rely on speaking with a caller to locate them.

Mackinac Island opted into the county’s 9-1-1 system in 2002, but couldn’t receive enhanced services until it had a formal address system. The city passed its first address ordinance in 2004 and the current system was implemented in 2006. Over the next two years, the information was closely reviewed and corrected, a joint effort with the city and AT&T. On the Island, the enhanced system was operational in the summer of 2008, 10 years after Enhanced 9-1-1 was available elsewhere in Mackinac County.

The digital map, however, had information gaps and lacked any road or trail that did not have an address assigned to it, explained Sam Barnwell, the city’s volunteer assistant fire chief. For the past 18 months or so, he has been adding roads and trails, correcting information, verifying addresses in person, and incorporating other points of interest. This information is organized in a geographic information system (GIS) database, the system used by Enhanced 9-1-1.

But on the Island, the update is proceeding slowly.

“There’s a lot of bad data out there,” Mr. Barnwell said, so the process has been time-consuming.

Mark Wilk is the Allied Emergency Medical Services manager in St. Ignace, and he agreed that the updated maps will help improve emergency response effectiveness on the Island.

“Anytime that you have any type of information that can locate an emergency quicker, faster, for police, fire, and EMS personnel, then it’s great,” Mr. Wilk said. “Technology can be used to improve quality of life and this definitely does. It’s beneficial.”

One obstacle to overcome is that many buildings on the Island do not have addresses posted outside. The city has required street numbers be posted since July 1, 2007, but has not enforced the ordinance in the seven years since. In fact, a concern was raised about posting addresses at a city meeting this winter, but the city did not take action or direct the police department to enforce the law.

Before the city adopted a formal address system, some residents simply used their post office box numbers as house numbers, or just made up a number. In some cases, these old and incorrect numbers are still posted. The city has assigned a four-digit address number to each property, and Mr. Barnwell said the city must work with residents to properly label their buildings. Posting the correct house number, he pointed out, allows the place to be found quickly during emergencies, especially when out of town emergency responders unfamiliar with the community are working on the Island.

About 27% of the buildings on Mackinac Island do not have posted address numbers outside. There are 846 points on the Island, so about 230 structures are not in compliance, and most of those are residences, Mr. Barnwell said. If property owners do not know their four-digit address, they can contact the Mackinac Island Fire Department for help.

The city’s mapping system is lacking in other ways, too. Several city signs on Main Street still read Huron Street, even after the name was changed years ago. Three of the signs on the main thoroughfare are incorrect, and four others are simply missing. All seven will be replaced this spring, and Mr. Barnwell said the city is “increasing the quality and security of the bolts” on the signs.”

On the new mapping system, landmarks and colloquial names, such as Four Corners, are added to help dispatchers better direct responders, especially those who come from the mainland and are not familiar with the Island. Dispatchers can search for specific information, such as common names, nearby landmarks, and trails, and responders will use that information to locate emergencies.

Printed versions of the updated map were placed in emergency vehicles, including the police car, fire trucks, and ambulance. GIS allowed Mr. Barnwell to overlay certain information onto aerial imagery or a white background.

Roads and trails were colorcoded for different reasons, such as which roads the fire truck can use. The map also notes neighborhoods. This will be the first time the responders have had a uniform physical map to use that includes all of the needed information.

The county’s Equalization Department is in the process of changing county tax, parcel, and lot maps to the same GIS format used by 9-1-1. When the GIS effort is completed, all county offices will use the same digital map that will have different, selectable layers of information. Having all the county information in the same format allows the maps to be more easily shared and updated in the future.

“With GIS,” said Mr. Tracy, “you can share between computers and departments. Everybody sees the same picture.”

Certain information will be shared selectively, such as private telephone numbers that will remain confidential.

Maintaining digital maps is an ongoing process, said Mr. Tracy.

“We’ve had a working map for years,” he said. “It’s never going to be finished. We’re building and merging it together.”

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