Draft street address standard up for public comment

Street addresses are used by just about every facet of society and government, from paramedics to tax assessors to the U.S. Postal Service. However, until recently, there has been no move to standardize the creation of addresses across the country.

But through a national effort that officially began in April, two organizations have drafted a street address standard.

The Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), a national nonprofit group of geographic information systems professionals, and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which advocates deployment of a national 911 emergency number, released a first draft of the standard in September. They issued a second version earlier this month and are seeking public comments until Jan. 16, 2006.

The current decentralized process of allowing thousands of jurisdictions to create addresses at the local level has spawned a host of different ways to number, name or identify a location.

“They’ve evolved over the past 150 years and [are] used for many different purposes,” said Ed Wells, president-elect of URISA. “Delivering mail is a fairly different proposition from sending out an ambulance, and both are different from sending out property taxes.”

Even though street addresses are the public and private sectors’ most widely used identifiers, the process of creating them is in many ways outdated, he said.

In 2003, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) began developing an address standard for exchanging data, but URISA and other organizations felt it should be more comprehensive. URISA submitted a proposal to develop a more wide-ranging standard, which FGDC approved earlier this year.

Wells, who works for Washington, D.C.’s chief technology officer as a GIS transportation and operations liaison, said the recent URISA/NENA drafts are based on the federal work.

The data standard consists of four parts: content, classification, quality and data exchange. Wells said the organizations included representatives of the federal, state and local governments in the development process and conducted many outreach efforts to bring more voices into the mix.

After public comment on the latest draft is incorporated, the groups will present a third draft to FGDC for formal approval and acceptance. Under the terms of the proposal, if the FGDC representatives accept the URISA/NENA draft, then they will put the draft through their public review process, which could lead to formal adoption.

If adopted, the new street address standard would be mandatory for most federal agencies but voluntary for state and local governments and others, Wells said, adding that he’s optimistic that the standard will be adopted by the end of 2006.

“So far, people are generally accepting of the basic approach we’re taking,” he said.

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