Law Enforcement's Role in Street Addresses

By Ruggeri, Eric | Law & Order, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Law Enforcement's Role in Street Addresses


Ruggeri, Eric, Law & Order


A uniform municipal frontage-based addressing system is a key part of any 911-emergency communications system. Normally the task of municipal street addressing is assigned at the county level but in some large urban areas it may be undertaken by the city or even state level. In even other areas, the addressing system is managed by the local law enforcement agency.

In order for an Enhanced 911 (E911) system to operate properly, the municipal addressing database must be in place and free of errors as much as possible. Enhanced 911 is a computer based system that automatically links the dialer's telephone number to its associated civic address which is then forwarded to the emergency dispatcher, all within seconds. If this civic address, also referred to as automatic location identification, or ALI, is incorrect or insufficient, a delay in the response of emergency service providers occurs.

The common method of giving directions to a rural home in the past was, "Turn right on the first gravel road past the barn that burned down last summer and we are the second home past the red brick one." This ambiguous description was open to interpretation and necessitated some local knowledge of the area to find a property. To simply be able to say, "We are located at 1240 Dorchester Road" is a much more efficient and precise method of sending emergency assistance and lessens errors.

While this article is designed from a maintenance perspective for those areas that already have an E911 system in place, it can be used as a preceptor tool for those areas preparing to start E911 service. An ideal municipal addressing system must provide a physical street address to each land parcel, lot, business, commonplace and residence in the system's response area.

Whether or not telephone service is currently in place on an effected land parcel is irrelevant and must be considered for future expansion. The addressing system must provide the means by which police, fire and EMS can find every location in the respective county or city at all times of the day and in inclement weather conditions.

Street Signage and Address Posting

One part of maintaining any municipal addressing system is to ensure the addresses and any changes are correctly posted. This normally requires the passage of a local ordinance or county by-law to be enforced. It is usually a good idea to permit law enforcement officials to enforce postings through citations; however, some larger areas rely on city or codes enforcement or engineering departments to monitor it.

Street signs are suggested to be constructed of reflectorized aluminum signs with vinyl overlay and installed on a five-foot-high post. It is also a good practice to use a different color-combination street sign than any bordering municipalities are currently using. This makes it easy to recognize the change in any municipality borders when they are not normally clear. In certain new construction, municipalities can usually pass this cost on to the building contractor installing a new development or subdivision. Street and address postings for developments currently under construction are also important, especially for fire protection reasons.

House or building digit numbers should be conspicuously placed on all occupied land parcels and each building on a specific property, preferably above or as close to the doorways specifically. The lettering or numbering should be reflectorized as well and a minimum of six inches in height (eight for commercial properties) and should be a contrasting color to its background.

In the case of urban areas or areas where the building itself is more than five feet from the primary street or roadway, the street digit numbers should be posted at both the driveway entrance from the main roadway AND on the building itself. One without the other is useless. Numerals on mailboxes should be marked on both sides of the mailbox and on the front of mailboxes if several are clustered together. …

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