The United States National Grid is often thought of as only a point reference system. However, its versatility as an area reference system makes it a very efficient and effective tool for conducting resource and hazard planning for specific areas prior to an incident as well as mission tasking during and after an incident has occurred.
Recent catastrophic planning projects and other efforts around the country have demonstrated the need for more detailed pre-event planning to determine potential resource needs. In planning for regional, large-scale, or catastrophic incidents whose impacts cover widespread areas, the ability to script potential missions and determine resource needs/allocations pre-event is critical. This required resource planning process examines a host of available data such as population demographics, hazards, and infrastructure in the context of potential consequences, and determines likely resource needs for specific operational areas, independent of political jurisdictional boundaries.
The operational area to be pre-scripted should be readily identifiable by local responders, and as importantly be easily identifiable by mutual aid resources that would be asked to respond from other areas of the impacted state, resources requested from other states through EMAC, and by responding federal resources. The USNG meets this requirement.
The United States National Grid is the geographic grid reference system that has been identified by the National SAR Committee as the primary catastrophic incident search and rescue geo-referencing system that must be used by federal land SAR responders. Other non-federal responders across local and state jurisdictions are in the process of adopting the USNG as well. Importantly, the US military is our largest force multiplier and also uses a grid which is functionally the same as the USNG, known as the Military Grid Reference System. Though the USNG is well known in the SAR community as a point reference system it is now being used for many purposes unrelated to SAR, particularly because of its strength as an area reference system.
The challenge has been to develop uniform procedures and techniques that can be used to pre-script missions for specific operational areas across all levels of response (strategic, regional, & tactical) for use by the leadership of various response disciplines (fire, SAR, Haz-Mat, EM, emergency medical, law enforcement, mass care, etc.) to determine resource needs using sound science.
Specific and scalable operational areas can be identified using the United States National Grid. Operational areas can be classified into three basic categories – tactical, regional & strategic. Tactical areas of operation can typically be designated by one or more 1,000 meter (~.62 mile) grid squares and provides detailed information for direct tactical operations. Regional operational areas can be generally designated by 10,000 meter (~6.2 miles) grid squares and at the more strategic level 100,000 meter (~62 miles) grid squares can be utilized to provide a view more typically used by operatives at the state emergency operations center.
Pre-scripted mission analysis can be accomplished for any level of operational areas as delineated above. Once the grid size and target operational area is selected potential missions and required resources can be identified pre-event by combining the USNG with a suite of available data sets to include, but not limited to, demographic data, infrastructure data, known hazards and property type (residential/commercial/agriculture). Combining the USNG with data sets and modeling tools such as HAZUS, ALOHA, Floodwav , CATS, other modeling programs or GIS analysis results in understanding consequences and needs in an actionable data way for a specific operational area designated by USNG grid squares for all types of natural or man-made events.
When the potential consequences and associated requirements are calculated as described above, subject matter experts can then determine resource needs to mitigate or respond to these impacts. Resource needs can then be compared to available resources, identifying resource shortfalls that may exist.
An additional benefit is that consequences (and the resource needs) of an event can be updated from the original scenario-based planning or pre-event forecast projections in real time by using actual damage reports that are being received as the event progresses and/or by using post event damage assessments.
As an outcome, decision makers at every level will have knowledge of the potential consequences of an event in a geographic area that is easily identifiable, and will also have visibility on needed resources for that event in that specific area. This will provide those decision makers with quantifiable data to plan for resource procurement and allocation pre-event, while the event is unfolding and also post-event using actual damage assessment data.
As a simple example, consider any area of the country – a coastal area on the east or gulf coasts, an area in the New Madrid seismic zone, west coast areas subject to potential earthquake or tsunami activity or an area in tornado alley. When planning for a major event, simply identify a USNG grid square of the sizes mentioned above and begin by laying readily available data sets over that identified area. Parcel data from tax collectors or property appraisers would identify the types and sizes of structures that might be encountered, and identifying high rise or multifamily structures will support mission planning for search and rescue, LE and other activities. Census (and other local) data would identify the demographics to assist planning for various age groups (do we need to ship pampers or adult diapers into the impacted area as an example), or are there a large number of potential survivors who do not speak English as a first language. Data sets from any of the modeling programs mentioned above could identify potential flood or surge areas, which might lead us to plan for the use of high-wheeled vehicles and /or marine response assets.
You get the idea, and I am certain that you could identify many other data sets that would be useful, such as transportation infrastructure, medical facilities, hazards, etc. A very important added bonus to using the USNG for planning and response is that responders do not need to have any previous knowledge of the identified area. Those arriving (or even enroute) can be tasked with a particular grid square(s) and with the data above can plan and execute a mission while being completely unfamiliar with the area assigned.
Experience has shown us that there is a critical need for pre-event planning to determine resource needs for various types of events. Identifying these needed resources allows us to determine potential resource shortfalls. Using a common area reference system to identify these areas allows decision makers, command personnel and responders to focus on the same area during the planning process and then during the response to an actual event. Using a common reference system such as the USNG allows responders from other jurisdictions and/or other states to have knowledge of the demographic, infrastructure and damage assessment data of their assigned response area prior to arriving in the area of operations. This enhances their ability, and the ability of decision makers at all levels to plan and execute an efficient response mission.
Thanks for taking time to read this lengthy post, and we welcome your comments.