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Maritime and Coastguard Agency deploys vernacular geography solution to help pinpoint exact incident locations

  • FINTAN allows users to find places that bit quicker using a mapping system that is accessible from all of our PCs. We have been able to reduce that significantly for no additional investment.

    Mark Harrington, Staff Officer for Vessel Traffic Monitoring

HM Coastguard is the on-call emergency organisation within the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), responsible for the initiation and coordination of all civilian maritime search and rescue operations within the UK. No one knows better than HM Coastguard that time is critical to helping save victims caught in dangerous situations, such as being in very cold water, being trapped under a cliff with an incoming tide, or in fading light where valuable minutes and seconds lost can make the difference between saving a life or not. Thus the fast and accurate location of someone in trouble is vital. Knowing the local names for places and geographic features, and being able to pinpoint their exact location with certainty, can help direct rescue teams more efficiently and quickly. That is why MCA is currently deploying FINTAN, a solution created by Ordnance Survey’s Research department to enable the capture, storage and display of the information about the actual names people use to refer to locations.

The challenge

According to the MCA, each year 25% of the adult population take part in a total of over 100 million leisure activities on the sea or at the coast. In 2010, HM Coastguard was called to over 15,000 incidents on, or just off the coast of Great Britain. Postcodes are not particularly useful in these circumstances. Callers will often use nicknames for beaches, rocks and other areas that have other names on maps or that don’t exist within gazetteers but may be well-known in the locality. This can, on occasions, make the identification of incident locations difficult and slow at a time when every second saved could be critical to a successful incident outcome.

Steve Brown, Head of Technical Development at MCA, explains: ‘As one of the emergency services, we currently operate 16 Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) around the United Kingdom.

Our Coastguard staff hold an enormous amount of local knowledge, which is often key to emergency response and coordination. As we move towards a national maritime operations centre, we will rely heavily on geographic information and we will need to ensure that we robustly incorporate our local knowledge within the modernised Coastguard organisation.’

The solution

FINTAN is an Ordnance Survey crowdsourced vernacular gazetteer that references local names for various features and areas. It allows MCA staff to add local names for beaches, rocks, waterways and other features with nicknames onto the existing mapping data. FINTAN includes 1:50 000 Scale Gazetteer, 1:25 000 Scale Colour Raster and OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 to form a search facility for the agency to use. It also permits the use of grid references alongside latitude and longitude, allowing the other emergency services that use different reference systems to work to a common geography and terminology so they all know precisely where the rescue should take place.

Mark Harrington is Staff Officer for Vessel Traffic Monitoring at MCA and is overseeing the project. He comments: ‘FINTAN is the answer to expanding the use of local knowledge across the service to deliver efficiency, time saving and ultimately, saving lives by having this local knowledge available to users on an easy and interactive portal. Ordnance Survey set up the FINTAN website for us to use, and during the trial, took all our suggestions on board. The project developed from simply enabling the entering of information against a map to become a website that is exceptionally useful, especially in an emergency. Suddenly, from only having a rough idea of location when all we had was a nickname and having to search the map to confirm the right place, we can now type in the nickname and FINTAN takes you to where it is. Our people enter new nicknames as they come across them and once they have been entered, all users can find them in the searchable database.’

For example, staff in the MRCCs at, Solent, Holyhead and Stornoway have been adding names for offshore rocks and nicknames for islands – such as Sausage Island (Ynys-las, Gwynedd), Dell Rock, off Stornoway, and many more.

The benefits

Steve Brown says: ‘Through FINTAN, Ordnance Survey is enabling Her Majesty’s Coastguard to consistently capture this valuable information and make it available to MCA staff across the whole country; something we’ve not been able to manage previously.'

Mark Harrington adds: ‘Although it is just one of several sources of information, such as tracking of mobile phone signals or radio signals we use, our staff do use FINTAN and agree on its usefulness.’

The products used

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Strathclyde Fire and Rescue (SFR) is using Ordnance Survey data, now supplied through the One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA), to enhance the quality of incident information for all personnel attending emergencies.

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