It was a dark and stormy night

Posted by MikeN on 2 February 2020 in English (English). Last updated on 3 February 2020.

It was a dark and stormy night - no, not THAT dark and stormy night, but still a challenging situation! Imagine an emergency services reponder being tasked with rapidly finding a residence on an active call in an area of:

  • Appalachian Foothills with winding narrow roads
  • Rural dense / light suburban population density
  • Rainy spring / early summer leads to rapid landscape / vegetation growth, quickly obscuring mailbox location.
  • Tree covered and winding shared driveways several Km long - possibly lacking turnoff marking to individual houses. House is often not visible from the road.
  • Unmarked, unreadable, or non-reflective mailbox number markers.

Last year, this situation led the local Slater-Marietta Fire District (FD) to post not just one , but two pleas for people to pay attention to driveway entrance and house markings.

While the local OSM community was importing cell towers in a nearby county, one of the mappers who worked on cell towers at the time noted that driveways would be very useful because of similar problems: the tower might not be visible from the roadway, and no clear marking for the tiny access road would lead to the tower. That statement and seeing the “Amazon driveway project” come to our area gave me a project idea for that fire district: review all roads, create all driveways, and enter all addresses - then have the EMS use a standard OSM navigation app to get turn-by-turn directions to their destination.

A mapping colleague established a working relationship with the county - although they don’t have open data, they gave OSM permission and access to image layers for 6 inch off-leaf aerial imagery and roads and addresses. After opening up separate task manager tasks for roads and buildings , the area was eventually completed and ready for navigation.

BUT - finding apps that route up private driveways and past gates is a challenge. The standard OSM routers on the main page stop at private driveways. The BRouter web client was a useful tool to set up a custom routing profile and confirm that driveway navigation is effective. In apps, my choices were:

  • OSMAnd - excellent because immediate updates from OSM are possible. But the address search on the IOS version was ineffective. I wasn’t yet sure what equipment the local FD would be using, so I didn’t want to count on using OSMAnd.
  • Magic Earth - supports IOS and Android and calculates routes up private driveways. Looked like it would work, but can’t determine the data update rate. Also it’s not clear what the options “OSM Mode” and “Debug Mode” do. There’s an Email contact for support but no user forum.
  • - supports IOS and Andoid and routes into private driveways, but data update is several months behind OSM. The data date is clearly shown in the app which is a help. Has ads unless paying to remove them.

A big plus for any of these apps is that the data can be pre-downloaded, and navigation will continue to work in isolated areas without cellular data coverage.

In the end, Magic Earth released a data update in late January and included the new data from the FD. We met with the FD and showed them Magic Earth. They were very enthusiastic about the app and tested it with some past problem addresses. They noted that one house has no driveway: you must know to park at the neighbor’s house and walk on a foot path through the woods to get there. OSM navigation would not be able to find that one! They loaded Magic Earth on the iPads mounted in the trucks. They also had a Windows tablet which we had no navigation solution for.

The fire district monitors their response time, and hopefully it will have a measurable impact over time. They had a number of ideas for other ways to use this data - for example they will enter all the emergency helicopter landing zones (any flat area with at least 100 feet of clearance). The ideal way to use this is to have an app that shows the nearest landing zones, but I don’t know of any such app yet. Of course it would be desirable to minimize the number of different apps they need to learn and to integrate with their current dispatch system.

I recently happened to find another OSM mapper who has mapped road and address details in his rural region and seen a great improvement in average response time using OSMAnd.

And dark and stormy nights aren’t as bad as before!

Location: Marietta, Greenville County, South Carolina, 29683, United States

Comment from Heather Leson on 2 February 2020 at 20:51

Thanks for this post!

Comment from Glassman on 2 February 2020 at 21:01

I’m glad to see local fire departments using OSM. This would make a good talk for the Tucson SoTM-US as well as to your state URISA chapter. It also shows the value of adding addresses to OSM.

A couple of thoughts - First, do we need a tag to indicate shared driveways? Second, would adding the address to the driveway help, especially when it’s not easy to determine which driveway belongs to an address?


Comment from MikeN on 2 February 2020 at 22:08

@Glassman, the convention being used by Amazon and one of the methods in the Wiki is to just mark the shared part as highway=service , and the individual drives as service=driveway. That works for navigation instructions, although it doesn’t help statistical queries for shared driveways. There’s also a suggestion to use service=pipestem which would help with GIS queries.

Normally ending the driveway close to its address tells the router to use that driveway, but I remember a handful of cases where the nearest driveway does not belong to that address. Having some way to handle that would be helpful. Adding the address to the driveway only would be a bit confusing for those looking for a building with an address. Adding the address to the driveway as a duplicate address might be a good solution. I don’t know if routers would automatically do the right thing - that’s an interesting question.

Comment from Anakil on 3 February 2020 at 12:38

Very interesting to see another emergency use case !

For your problem with the app to locate nearest landing zone : maybe the current apps could help with that (osmand or magic earth) as they pre-load POI information. I don’t know which tag is used for these landing zone, but for a simple helipad (aeroway=helipad), i can find them with magic earth or osmand search (and it list them with distance AND show them on the map). If the tag used for these landing pad is not loaded in the database of the app, you could always ask them to do it. At least that would allow to do it without developing another app ! :-)

Then for better usability, i don’t know if that possible to create a shortcut button to automatically launch this search instead of manually entering it (i’m not really used to iOS or Android capabilities).

Comment from itsamap! on 5 February 2020 at 14:16

Great post!

Comment from MikeN on 6 February 2020 at 00:23

@Anakil , I think the search might work - since there aren’t many different types of items they would search for, they could tape a small cheat sheet with the correct search phrase on the tablet.

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