Cascadia Rising and
U.S. National Grid
Cascadia Rising and U.S. National Grid

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Cascadia Rising

Cascadia Rising is a national level disaster exercise based on 'what if' there was a 9.0 earthquake all along and a bit offshore from Washington, Oregon and northern California. This exercise will take place June 7-10, 2016. This page has links to some of the key planning documents that describe the estimated scope of death, injury and damage. Those documents also describe plans for relief efforts.

U.S. National Grid (USNG)

U.S. National Grid (USNG) has been adopted as the standard coordinate system that FEMA and other elements of the federal government will use following a disaster. It is critical that the USNG coordinate system also be used by states, counties, cities, tribes and all other emergency responders so that everyone is speaking the same "language of location".

>>>>> Bad news alert <<<<<

Even though USNG has been repeatedly adopted as the standard coordinate system to be used for disaster response, there is no agreement by Washington State and the counties, cities and other exercise participants to all speak the same "language of location" by all using the USNG coordinate system during the Cascadia Rising exercise. The way it presently looks, there will be around five different coordinate systems in use during the Cascadia Rising exercise. That approach was tried during the Hurricane Katrina response (see below) so we already know for an absolute certain fact that using multiple coordinate systems and maps without a common grid during a disaster response is a BAD IDEA.

Cascadia Rising Exercise Documents

As you read these documents you should be wondering how many days will it be before any significant help arrives in your neighborhood given the off-the-charts scale of the problems resulting from a 9.0 earthquake. The odds are high that for some number of days the only help many of us in the Northwest will get are people in our own immediate neighborhood helping each other.

Cascadia Rising Exercise Scenario

Washington National Guard Response Plan">

Federal documents officially adopting the USNG coordinate system

During WWII different allied countries used different coordinate systems to conduct operations. This resulted in sufficient confusion and chaos over location issues. Shortly after WWII the allies got together and agreed to adopt the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) which ground forces continue to use today. MGRS and USNG are identical except USNG is written with some spaces so it is easier to read. Thus, anyone who learned MGRS in the military already knows USNG.

In 1990 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Circular No. A-l6 establishing the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). Among other things the committee was tasked with making improvements in the coordination and use of spatial data. The current version of Circular No. A-l6 is dated 2002 and has several supplements. They are online at: Circular No. A-l6

In 2001 the FGDC adopted the USNG coordinate system as the federal standard for the way that geospatial data is viewed by humans both on paper and electronically. This standard does not say anything about how geospatial data is stored.
2001 FGDC standard adopting USNG

In 2009 the Catastrophic Incident Search and Rescue Addendum was adopted by the National Search And Rescue Committee (NSARC). This document adopted USNG as the standard coordinate system the federal agencies will use during catastrophic search and rescue (SAR) operations. (Pages 112 thru 119)

In 2011 the Land Search and Rescue Addendum was adopted by NSARC. This Addendum specifies USNG as the standard coordinate system the federal government will use for all land-based search and rescue.
2011 NSARC standard adopting USNG for all SAR (Pages 4-43 thru 4-51)

In 2015 FEMA adopted USNG as the standard coordinate system it will use for all ground based operations. So when FEMA participates in the Cascadia Rising exercise and when FEMA shows up after a real disaster, FEMA is going to be speaking USNG when it talks about the location of people, places and events.
2015 FEMA directive adopting USNG for all ground operations

What does Florida know that we in the Pacific Northwest don't?

The division of emergency management for the State of Florida is in the process of adopting the USNG coordinate system for the entire state. Florida knows with 100% certainty that (1) letting responders use different coordinate systems and (2) using maps that lack a common grid system, is a recipe for location chaos during a disaster response.

In addition, the Florida Fire Chief's Association put out a position paper strongly advocating in favor of policies that require all contracts for geospatial products of any kind to fully support USNG. This is coming from people that know a thing or two about responding to disasters.
Florida Fire Chief's Association position paper

What other states are way ahead of Washington, Oregon and California in adopting USNG as a standard?

Surely the emergency managers on the west coast are just as savvy as those in Florida and the states you see below. Why are we on the west coast not also adopting USNG as a statewide standard so when disaster hits all emergency responders can be using the same coordinate system and thereby speaking the same "language of location"?

Minnesota USNG policy

Missouri USNG policy:

North Carolina USNG policy:

Remember Katrina

When Katrina came ashore in 2005 the local agencies were not trained in USNG and gross inefficiencies related to maps and locations resulted. Are we in the Northwest going to intentionally repeat those same mistakes by refusing to use the USNG coordinate system during the Cascadia Rising exercise and thereafter? Does that sound as dumb to you as it does to me?

Report on Hurricane Katrina location chaos:

What might a USNG disaster map look like?

Soon after a major disaster aerial photography is collected, processed and put on a GIS server. If the server is 'public facing' instead of for internal use only, then any GIS client software can display those aerials. There is a lot of GIS client software available, both commercial and free. The following maps are simply examples so everyone can see what a USNG grid looks like.

The following link displays an online map that includes a USNG grid. The basemap is aerials taken after the EF5 tornado went through Joplin Missouri in 2011. If you click the button that says "Joplin" then you can change the basemap.
Joplin tornado damage map

The next map shows aerials taken after major flooding in Minot, North Dakota. Right click the map anywhere and the popup will display the USNG coordinate for the spot that you clicked. Mobile users can simulate a right click by tapping the angle symbol at the left edge of the screen, dragging the crosshair that appears and then tapping the crosshair.
Minot flooding map


The two maps you saw above were produced by Gmap4. I am the developer of this browser app. Since this project is part of my way to "pay it forward", Gmap4 can be used by anyone for any non-commercial purpose. Here is a link that starts this browser app and displays a USNG grid without any extra basemaps or GIS overlays. If you open this link with a cell phone or other mobile device, then you will automatically see a touch-friendly interface.
Start Gmap4

Here is a list of the features, including search and geolocation, that support USNG:
Gmap4 USNG features

The Gmap4 homepage has a FAQ, list of features, examples, quick start info (on the Help page) and more to quickly get you up to speed.
Gmap4 homepage


Anyone who wants to learn the USNG coordinate system can find lots of free training material online. And if one particular way of presenting the material is not making sense to you - don't let yourself get bogged down. Instead, just go on and look at another presentation. Before long you will find one that you like and it will all make sense.

In no particular order, here are some sources for USNG training material.

Look under the "Training" tab on this site.

Excellent introduction to USNG by Minnesota! Power point slides. Tutorial starts at slide 34.

Video on USNG. You might have to ask for a new link to view the video.
USNG introduction by NSGIC

Another good introduction to USNG.
USNG introduction by NAPSG

Lots of information.

Another source for USNG information:

Lament from a Georgia SAR responder:

USNG browser app that works offline

You do not need an expensive GPS to show your location in USNG coordinates. Anyone can see their USNG coordinates by using the FindMeSAR browser app that I developed. This browser app is a public service and part of my way to 'pay it forward'.

Please grab your cell phone and browse to You will see a screen with a blue background. FindMeSAR will use the location services in your cell phone and display:
1. USNG coordinates
2. Accuracy
3. Timestamp

As the app continues to obtain location data the accuracy will quickly improve. Usually in well under a minute the coordinates should be accurate to within 10 meters or less.

Note: In order for the GPS chip in your phone to get the best data from the satellites you should be outside with a reasonably good view of the sky. If you are inside another option is to get close to a window. If you are in a car you could hold your phone under the windshield.

The app includes an icon that you can add to your home screen for a shortcut. You could also add a bookmark in your browser.

The first time you open FindMeSAR a copy of the entire app is automatically loaded into your browser's permanent memory and takes just over 100KB. This is done with the coding technique known as appcache. You can then close the browser tab with the app, close the browser and turn the phone off.

If you then go to a cell dead zone, turn the phone on, open the same browser and tap the shortcut icon you saved on your homescreen, the app will load from the browser's permanent memory and display your current location. You could also enter into your browser and the app will run even if you are offline.

And if you really do need to use a different coordinate system then you can tap the "Next format" button and see three other popular coordinate formats each with a different colored background.

Troubleshooting FindMeSAR
You need to make sure that 'location services' are turned on and you may need to give one or more permissions.

Apple users: Scroll down on the 'location service' page and make sure that your browser (likely Safari) has permission to use location services.

Android users: On your 'location services' page there likely is a button that says something like "Location method". Under that button are three choices. Set this to GPS Only (also called Device only on some units) and go outside to get the most accurate USNG coordinates for your location. Caution! If you use either of the other two location methods, then depending on circumstances the coordinate displayed on your screen might have such poor accuracy as to be worthless in an emergency.

If 10 seconds have gone by since you opened the app and coordinates have not appeared, then you will see a message telling you that your phone might be downloading new 'almanac' data from the GPS satellites. This will likely take about 20 minutes before coordinates start to appear on your screen and another minute or so before the coordinates are accurate to 10 meters or better. Be patient and try to remain outside where your phone has a reasonably good view of the sky.

How to delete from your phone

The browser's permanent appcache memory is *not* the same thing as the browser's cache which you can clear on a desktop/laptop computer.

Apple: Settings ==> Safari ==> Advanced ==> Website data ==> Edit ==> Select

Android: (Your phone might work differently) Are appcache browser apps uninstalled the same way as native apps are uninstalled? If someone who knows how to do this will send it to me, then I will post it here. There is a 'contact' button on the MappingSupport homepage.

Cascadia Rising recommendations

1. There is still time for us in the Northwest to not repeat that same mistakes made in past hurricane responses. But we need to get busy ASAP and get our local emergency managers and responders trained in USNG.

2. Each jurisdiction needs paper map books with USNG grid lines and readable labels. There will likely be no power in many areas for weeks or months. Emergency responders from across the nation will be finding their way around using those paper map books and USNG coordinates displayed on handheld GPS units or on cell phones. (See above.) Obviously it is impossible to do this if paper map books with USNG grid lines and labels do not exist.

3. Do this right now ==> Everyone should use their phone and browse to You can then browse to that app anytime and see your location in USNG coordinates. As long as you are outside or close to a window this will work online and offline.

4. Follow @USNGFlorida on twitter to keep up-to-date with USNG developments.

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