First, it should be acknowledged that there is a success story for public safety map symbology — the standardization of symbols for wild-land fires by the National Wildfire Coordination Group symbology. So why isn’t this symbology used for all hazards?
Simply put, the symbols are mostly tailored to wild-land fires. There are common features in the symbology for features that relate to “all hazard” incidents such as a Command Post, Base, and Staging, but it mainly included features pertinent only to wild-land fires. Granted you can modify symbology for your needs, but most people who tried this found severe gaps in their ability to use the symbology for other than a wild-land fire.
One effort to make a symbology set that included all hazards was initiated years ago by FEMA. The resulting work created four categories of symbols:
- Command Features
The group created over 200 symbols for various feature, and the command and infrastructure symbology included the option to set a “status” of that feature in the rendering and a consistent look and feel. However, after some study and testing some things were realized
- The symbols were very graphical and would be impossible to hand draw on paper. This requirement is important since there is the definite possibility that a map user during an incident will need to hand draw a symbol on a map
- Some of the individual features were vague in application. For example, the Emergency Staging Symbol means different things to different response agencies.
- Even with the breadth of symbols there were still a lot of missing symbols.
So what needed to happen?