The Case for a Common Operating Picture

There are many definitions of a Common Operating Picture, and they all are pretty much correct. Definitions can be simple to complex. For this discussion, we’ll focus on just the map. Now there is argument that there isn’t a need to have a common or consistent map during an incident, rather what is important is the data. While good data is paramount, the need to have consistency in map products also is important. But why?
In an Operations Center environment, if there are a room full of firefighters, cops, emergency managers, and political leaders, having a common pictures allows all parties to know what a symbol represents. If someone knowledgeable with that map is unavailable, anyone can just look at the map and know what a symbol means.
But what happens when a map ends up in the field?
Most maps used by responders are paper maps. Even with the advent of computer based maps, the most reliable and abundant way to present information is to have a paper map. This is because the cost of abundant accessibility is somewhat prohibitive on a computer based map — tablets and computers require a power source. Paper is lighter and more intuitive to use for most users. Now take an example where one agency shares a paper map with another agency. Even though there may be a legend available, when every second counts, it is helpful to have some consistency to reduce the amount of time to make informed decisions.
So why is it so hard to get a standard for map symbols?

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