Introduction

As you may have learned, MassGIS is working very closely with the State 911 Department in the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security on a Next Generation 911 Emergency Call System. MassGIS’ role is developing the map and address information that are at the heart of this new system. The information below explains how the new system is different, what MassGIS is doing for the State 911 Department, how municipal address information is or can be integrated into this project, and identifies address assignment best practices. Because municipalities assign new addresses, they have a key role to play in, and should ultimately assume responsibility for, keeping their address information current in the new emergency call system.

Today’s E-911 call system was established when all phones were landlines. Currently, when you call 911 from a landline, the 911 system uses the phone number to look up the corresponding physical address (“123 Jones Avenue”) in a database. The database identifies the appropriate public safety call center or PSAP (“public safety answer point”); the 911 system then uses that information to route the call to the correct PSAP. This tabular lookup will be replaced with a new system that uses geographic data. In Next Generation 911 the location of the caller will determine which PSAP gets the call. Reasons for a new system include accommodating other ways of contacting 911 (e.g., text messages), better backup options for handling 911 calls, increased bandwidth due to the implementation the Emergency Service IP Network (ESInet), and the ability to interconnect with other Next Generation 911 systems.

 

How is Next Generation 911 Different?

The Next Generation 911 or “NextGen 911” system will depend on high quality mapping: maps of emergency service zone boundaries and maps of address locations as points. Once the NextGen 911 system is in place, location information determines where the call is answered: for cell calls, longitude/latitude or an approximate location based on which cell towers receive the call signal; for landline phones, the addresses.When combined with an Emergency Service Zones (ESZs) boundary map, call locations will be used to route calls to the correct dispatch center. In the dispatch center, the call is displayed with a map to assist in verifying the location of callers; this map includes address locations as points. MassGIS has completed mapping the emergency service zones and draft mapping of address points and their address assignment for every community in the Commonwealth.

Emergency Service Zones are the geographic areas for which a specific 911 call center dispatches ambulance, fire, and police services. These zones often do not match municipal boundaries although they often follow assessor parcel boundaries

 

How is MassGIS Mapping Address Locations?

You may be familiar with MassGIS’ initiative to standardize statewide assessor tax mapping for use in geographic information system (GIS) software. While standardized mapping has many well documented benefits, the principal reason for the standardization was because ESZ boundaries can only be mapped if you have a representation of property boundaries; mapping ESZs would have been impossible without standardized parcel mapping in GIS. In addition, assessor site addresses linked to parcels on the assessor maps were an important beginning for mapping address locations. This is because if you know the site address for a parcel, you likely know the address for the structure(s) on that parcel. The needs of the NextGen 911 project for parcels and site addresses drove the recent completion of statewide standardized parcel mapping.

MassGIS is also using site plans and similar documents to determine the correct location for addresses in multi-building complexes such as condominium complexes, college campuses, and office parks (“sites”). MassGIS has also received information from some municipalities that has been incorporated into the MassGIS master address database for that community. Finally, since October 2015, MassGIS has had technicians in the field resolving address mapping issues, especially for multi-building complexities and for mixed use developments.

 

When Will Next Generation 911 Start?

The State 911 Department will start deploying the Next Generation 911 system in individual 911 call centers, also known as public safety answer points (PSAPS), in 2016.

 

What has MassGIS developed for NextGen 911?              

For every city and town, MassGIS has developed a draft master address resource. This resource consists of 1) a master list of addresses, assembled from multiple sources, and 2) a map of points, derived from statewide mapping of buildings; the building points represent potential address locations. The guiding principles for this work are: 

    • Each building point has an address
    • Each address is assigned to a location (usually a building point)

About 90+% of the addresses in MassGIS’ list of addresses for any one community have been associated with a point location.  However, many addresses in MassGIS’ list lack a good location because they may not be real addresses, or they may be redundant. Therefore, the actual percentage of real addresses mapped to a location is quite a bit higher. MassGIS has done as much automated cleanup as possible, but often it is impossible to tell whether two addresses that are similar are actually the same. MassGIS’ master address resource for each community is as complete as we can make it from the available address sources (assessor site addresses, Comcast subscribers and Voter Registration Information System; these are validated for completeness using the Emergency Service List from Verizon). Further progress will depend on input from people working in the field or from those with local knowledge.Some of the challenges we face are: Addresses that don’t match parcels (for example, apartment complexes, housing authority properties, mixed use buildings), Structures without addresses, Addresses with unknown location, and Multi-building sites.

 

I already have a master address list. Is MassGIS going to ignore that?

No.  Some communities have already put significant effort into developing master address lists or even address point mapping in GIS. MassGIS definitely wants to work with these communities to incorporate these existing data sets into the MassGIS project. Collaborating with communities in this way provides further validation of our addresses and address locations. Municipal collaboration will also help with identifying addresses we may have missed; we see this as a win-win situation.

 

What if I have a consultant working on my master address list?

MassGIS is also happy to work with third party providers that are assisting or can assist communities with developing master address resources. We encourage communities to have their consultants contact us concerning work on addresses. Similarly, if your community is planning to purchase a permitting system, if you do not already have a master address database that you know to be comprehensive, you should have your vendor work with one of the MassGIS master address download options for your community.

 

How does MassGIS learn about new addresses?

Most communities in the state now notify their own departments as well as third parties like utilities, of newly assigned addresses. Most communities in the state are now also notifying MassGIS. If you are not yet notifying MassGIS please add MassGIS to your distribution list. It is essential that MassGIS learn about any new addresses as soon as they are approved at the local level. That way, we can verify locations for those new addresses. All new addresses, even on non-accepted streets and private ways, have to be verified so that emergency services can respond as quickly as possible to a 911 call. Paul Nutting, MassGIS’ Outreach Coordinator, is coordinating with communities on sending MassGIS new addresses. Send new address notifications to MassGIS using this email address: Notify911Address@state.ma.us

 

I assign addresses. Are there best practices for address assignment?

The following basic rules should govern address assignment in all jurisdictions:

    1. The street name should be the name of the street from which the addressed location is accessed, either directly or via an un-named driveway or access road.
    2. If two or more distinct addressed locations are accessed via an un-named road or driveway, that road should be named, and numbers assigned, whether or not the road is “accepted” by the municipality as an official street.
    3. The sequence of numbers assigned to address locations along any street should match the sequence of the access points for those locations, with odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other (parity) and numbers on both sides increasing in the same direction.
    4. Addresses accessed from streets in neighboring communities should respect the name, numbering sequence, and parity of addresses in the neighboring community.

There are many, many situations in Massachusetts where these rules are not being followed. These situations are a significant obstacle to implementing Next Generation 911 and to public safety in general.

MassGIS is currently developing a template by-law and regulation for municipal addressing as well as a Standard for Municipal Addressing in the Commonwealth. Once those documents are available, we will broadly publicize them; they will be available through the MassGIS website.


Last Updated 5/5/16