Standards. A tough sell

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:

  • Incident
  • Infrastructure
  • Sensors
  • 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

  1. 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
  2. Some of the individual features were vague in application. For example, the Emergency Staging Symbol means different things to different response agencies.
  3. Even with the breadth of symbols there were still a lot of missing symbols.

So what needed to happen?

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