A guide to mapping Fire Hydrants in the UK

 

In the West Midlands our fire hydrant signs are generally placed on lamp posts:

The black H on a yellow background I believe to be a UK standard. The upper number is the diameter of the underlying water main in mm. The lower number is the distance in feet to the fire hydrant from the sign with the arrow showing the direction to the actual hydrant. There is also a reference number at the foot of the sign. So, having spotted the sign, the actual fire hydrant has to be found. The signs can get swivelled on the lamposts through maintenance interventions or general neglect and the arrows point in the wrong direction!

To complicate matters further, there are some fire hydrants that do not have a sign, and some older variants of the signs. These older signs tend to be attached to buildings or walls and I have no idea what the numbers refer to.

So you have to on the lookout on the ground as well as spotting yellow H  signs.Fire hydrant covers generally have FH on them to identify them, although some older ones can have just H only. Whether the older style ones are still operational I don’t know, but they get mapped anyway.

 

And of course it’s always good to see public organisations collaborating successfully with each other!

The basic tag is emergency=fire_hydrant with more details on the OSM wiki

Why the sudden interest in fire hydrants? In the UK, they’ve languished as an item that gets mapped.

At our last mappamercia pub meeting Andy Mabbett regaled us with his saga of trying to get West Midlands Fire Service to release the locations of fire hydrants under Freedom of Information legislation.

The full saga can be found here

WMFS refused to release the information on the grounds of national security viz: “publishing information about water  networks and other parts of the critical national infrastructure could  expose vulnerabilities in the network and pose a serious risk to public health either through non availability of water resource or
contamination of supplies. There does not have to be any evidence that this is being planned but it is a possibility given the current threat level in the United Kingdom.”

An appeal by Andy against WMFS to the first-tier information rights tribunal mainly on the grounds that other Fire Services in the UK had already released their information on fire hydrants was rejected. The judges agreed with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) assessment:

“The ICO concluded that the withholding of the information was reasonably necessary for national security and a listing of hydrants and their locations would assist in the planning of an attack by poisoning on water supply infrastructure by identifying access points. Such an attack on the infrastructure would be in the domain of national security. While hydrants are visible a comprehensive list of the precise location of every hydrant would place in the public domain more information than is available through hydrants being visible. WMFS supplied a list of attacks and attempted attacks on water supplies.The ICO considered that such an attack was plausible.”

There is a method for contaminating the water supply known as backflow contamination, which is considered to be reasonably easy according to an excellent paper here which quotes extensively from US military and homeland security sources. Fire hydrants are one possible source to generate backflow.

My limited understanding of water networks is that backflow is a general problem for the water supply industry, which can mitigate the effects with backflow prevention devices. Just how extensive and successful this mitigation is in the UK (and thus how safe we are from backflow attacks) will remain a commercial mystery, as our water supply is in the hands of private companies who are under no obligation to reveal such information. ( I have another story about water networks and open information which will be the subject of a later blog)

Given the cult of secrecy that exists at all levels of official Britain, it also seems unlikely there will be any disclosure of the risk levels of such an attack vector so that we might make up our own minds based on the data. We will have to make do with the assurances of “those that know best”. The public’s role seems to be limited primarily to that of potential or actual victims.

This issue does raise some interesting ethical challenges for OpenStreetMap as it seems to be sending us back several centuries when accurate maps were regarded as military secrets. Or to the days of the Cold War when our national mapping agency the Ordnance Survey would obligingly leave blank spaces on their maps at the sites of military installations. Would a map of fire hydrants in the West Midlands be construed as offence under ss57&58 of the Terrorism Act 2000: collecting, possessing or making a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism? Should we be standing up for opendata, one of the founding principles of OpenStreetMap, or protecting  (supposedly) national security? What is the position in other jurisdictions where there are more draconian restrictions about identifying and mapping military installations and “national critical infrastructure”? Are mappers more circumspect there?  What’s the legal postion- is the OSMF liable for prosecution or just the contributing mapper or both? Should OSMF comply with a demand to remove information on the grounds of national security? Or to refrain from collecting it in the first instance?

According to taginfo there are only 1786 fire hydrants mapped in the UK, of which there are now about 300  in the West Midlands. Prior to my interest being piqued by this sorry tale there were only about 5 fire hydrants mapped in the West Midlands. Judging by the density of fire hydrants I’ve discovered so far, there are probably thousands in the West Midlands so I seriously doubt whether we’ll ever crowdsource the location of all of them,(or even many more than we have already).

Nonetheless, it’s been an education in another aspect of urban infrastructure I wasn’t really aware of, and a confirmation of the patrician “you don’t need to know about that” attitude of much of British officialdom.

(all of the images are my own and are published here as public domain)

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OpenStreetMap UK Local Chapter officially exists

posted in: Participate | 0
On Saturday morning I received from Companies House the Certicifate of Incorporation for OpenStreetMap United Kingdom Community Interest Company Ltd. It is a private limited company, limited by guarantee.

It’s taken us a year to get this far, through a protracted and  often tedious process of agreeing Memorandum and Articles of Association,Community Interest Statement, form-filling, and signature gathering. Thankyou to everyone who participated, especially the volunteers who agreed to be the first directors necessary to get the thing off the ground.

Now we can start doing the fun stuff of how we make this work and transform it into a living organisation.(Although I’m sure we’ll still have our share of bureaucratic process to navigate).

Prizewinners! Birmingham Highways Data Challenge

posted in: Mapping Party | 1

Mappa Mercia was at the 2 day Birmingham Highways Data Challenge hackathon last weekend where numerous datasets relating to highways and transport were made available. We won a prize for developing  an HS2 HGV Traffic Heat Map. It’s not the finest visualisation, but we were up against a time constraint, poor initial data (essentially text descriptions of routes with no geolocation data) and having to learn new tools from scratch.

hs2-heatmap

Link to Visualisation

Judges remarks

A striking example of an entry that demonstrated shortcomings in the manner in which data is published by the organisation that some members of the team worked for, leading to them finding a fix for this which they will take back to their organisation; in this case HS2, with a recommended, enduring fix. Nothing like a bit of user testing to highlight improvements and a swift response by HS2 data managers to find a solution.

Team

Andrew Gaitskell (HS2) and Brian Prangle (OpenStreetMap / Mappa Mercia)

Description

Traffic heat map showing anticipated HS2 HGV traffic intensity and flows – for the purpose of visualising the data the developers chose forecasted HGV traffic flows around Birmingham International Airport arising from the siting of HS2 construction compounds.

Technology

ArcGIS to extract CSV data of Traffic Link and HS2 Compound Location Data from GeoDatabase file downloaded from eB (HS2’s document management system)

Online XY to Lat,Long coordinate converter. http://gridreferencefinder.com/batchConvert/batchConvert.php

Excel to manipulate data and match XY Conversions to Traffic Flow Data

OpenStreetMap for base map

Used https://carto.com/ to display the location of the compounds and Traffic flow data

Data used

Machine-readable extracts from published documents.

Additional data was required to identify the planned HS2 Compounds

GeoDatabase Files of HS2 Traffic Links and Compound Locations.

Prize

Raspberry Pi 3

 

Transport for West Midlands: Public Art

posted in: Use The Map | 0

Scattered around the West Midlands at bus interchanges are numerous sculptures, commissioned by the transport authority, Centro. They were commisioned and erected in the early optimistic years of the current century. They are quite striking and try to reflect the history and local culture of the community which use the bus interchanges.  Bus interchange sounds a grand title, but on the ground they’re mostly collections of bus stops, where you need to change bus routes.

Not every bus interchange has a sculpture and I don’t know what the criteria were for choosing them. I guess the money ran out before completion.

Centro no longer exists, having changed its name to Transport for West Midlands, upon the creation of the new tier of local government, the West Midlands Combined Authority.

I decided to make a separate map of these artworks, even though they can be found in the West Midlands Heritage map, where they are just another artwork amongst hundreds of others. They are a unique collection of public artwork and are regularly photographed for wikimedia,flikr and the like. So if you see these photos and wonder where the artworks are, there’s no map to find them. So a dedicated map seemed the best solution.

tfwm-artwork

I use umap to create the map and found it incredibly easy, and  I will certainy be creating more maps with umap. It took at least ten times longer to ensure the data was correct.

Congratulations!

posted in: Participate | 1

Congratulations to everyone who has participated in the various UK Quarterly Projects. We were nominated for an award at the recent international State of the Map 2016 conference in Brussels.

Unfortunately we weren’t awsome enough to win, but it’s nice to be recognised, even though that’s not why we do things. It’s just fun!

Thanks to everyone who voted for us.

Anyway here’s  the nice certificate that Rob brought back from Brussels

osm-award

Summary of the Summer UK Quarterly Project

Our Summer project  which ended on 30 September was to map as many farmyards as we could.
1. We added 1499 farmyards, which compares to an increase of 853 schools for the schools project which seems to suggest farmyards was a more active project, but the schools project added 3653 polygons( i.e we converted lots of nodes to polygons, thereby enriching the data). So this time we created more data, rather than improve existing data.
2. We gathered momentum during the project: it took 39 days to edit the first 500 farmyards; 33 for the next 500; and 20 days for the ultimate 500 (well, 499)

3. There are over 19,000 place=farm tags, almost all of them (>18,000) nodes. Mostly they seem to indicate farms but sometimes they get used too enthusiastically for any group of buildings. It is generally agreed that this tag really doesn’t add any useful information and its use should be discouraged.

4. We have 36 generically named Poultry Farm or Poultry Houses copied from OS OpenData, which describes the farm but doesn’t actually name it!

5. A lot of farms in Herefordshire (which is where I mapped mostly for this project) don’t have the word Farm in their name. Is this the case elsewhere?

6. If Herefordshire is anything to go by road alignment in rural areas can be pretty poor.

7. Waterways traced from NPE are severely misaligned.

8. 5 and 6 might suggest themselves as future quarterly projects. Correcting them around farms I added certainly slowed down my output.

9. Don’t ask farmers to help you mapping during their busiest time of year! I got zero response from my approaches.

10. Most unusual name I found was Cold Comfort Farm. There are 4 of them in the UK and had a comic novel named after them

Herefordshire farmyards before and after:

hereford-farms-june hereford-end-sep

UK Summer Quarterly Project

Today saw us pass the 1,000 total for farmyards added during this project(1008 to be precise).

Well done to everyone who has participated. What has been the most unusual farm name anyone has come across?

stone_built_slurry_tank_at_moel_y_mab-_part_of_the_leighton_model_farm

Picture Wikimedia Commons: Rod Trevaskus       cc0

Only a couple of weeks left – time to start thinking about our next quarterly project, while we see how many more farmyards we can add.

Birmingham roundabout amongst the most dangerous in the country

posted in: Use The Map | 0

Yesterday the Birmingham Post (our weekly city newspaper) carried a story about the number of accidents on major Birmingham roundabouts. The recently reconfigured roundabout at Bordesley Circus, with an accident every 20 days over the previous six years is the second most dangerous roundabout in the country. That’s a total of 105 accidents.

The Post chose to illustrate its story with graphics based on OpenStreetMap data; showing the site of accidents. Without attribution it has to be said: we’ve already contacted the editor pointing out our attribution policy

The story went on to list the next five most dangerous roundabouts in the city, each with its OSM-based diagram of accidents.

Its always good to see our data being used. Even better to see it being attributed!

We Are Ten

posted in: Mapping Party | 0

August sees mappamercia celebrate its tenth birthday – can you believe it? We didn’t celebrate with a birthday cake but we did meet in Pershore Worcesteshire on Saturday 6th August at the Pickled Plum pub for lunch between morning and afternoon mapping sessions. It was a glorious English summer’s day and we got lots mapped.

Why did we pick Pershore? Mainly because its postcode of WR10 nicely coincided with our birthday. Maybe we’ll be boxing around Worcester postcodes in August every year as we get older- see you next year in WR11!

We had a good turnout of six people and took the opportunity of getting members’ signatures on the Memorandum of Assocation for OpenStreetMap UK Community Interest Company (this is one of the legal documents required to form a limited company).

Here’s Rob Nickerson being the first to add his signature (It was Rob who initiated the discussions many months ago to create a UK chapter of OSM)

Signing

Busy days

posted in: Participate, Use The Map | 1

Yesterday I attended the Landor Future Highways Conference at the new iCentrum building on Birmingham Science Park, at the invitation of the Birmingham ODI (Open Data Institute) node. It was good to see so many OSM maps being used by presenters (thankyou Devon County Council and TransportAPI). I  was provided an adhoc slot into the programme to deliver a lightning 5 minute presentation about OpenStreetMap (thankyou Birmingham ODI node). It was a bit daunting presenting to highway professionals, especially in front of a screen the size of an IMAX cinema!

Then it was off to Leicester to train new volunteers in editing with iD, as part of Leicester City Council’s walking-mapping project which is an  extension of their weekly Leicester health Walks. Thanks to Sara for organising the training and to Chris, Alan, Stan and AJ who took their first steps editing OpenStreetMap. We all look forward to you increasing the data coverage in Leicester.

I’ve just about finished the edits from our June mini-mapping party in Kidderminster  from 2 weeks ago, when guess what?  Our July mini-mapping party is tonight in Tamworth – everyone welcome. We’ll be meeting in the Globe Inn Lower Gungate, Tamworth B79 7AT at 8pm.

 

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