All in the numbers: Visible street addresses aid emergency response

Looking for an easy way to help police or fire and rescue responders get to you in an emergency? Make sure your home or business’ street number is on display and visible from the road.

“Anytime first responders, police fire or medical personnel, are responding to calls for service, their response time is reduced when addresses are conspicuously posted,” says Asheville Police Department Captain Daryl Fisher. “These extra seconds could be the difference in the survival of victims.”

According to Stuart Rohrbaugh, in the City of Asheville’s Development Services, an estimated 20 percent of commercial buildings and 50 percent of residences in Asheville don’t have address numbers posted on the structure. As the city’s Emergency Address Coordinator, Rohrbaugh is in charge of assigning street addresses to development projects that come through Development Services.

Rohrbaugh enters those addresses into the city’s GIS system, which are then used by dispatchers at the Buncombe Emergency Operations Center, operated with a partnership between the City of Asheville and Buncombe County, to direct first responders to the scene of a emergency call.

“This is primarily how we get our emergency response teams to the scene,” Rohrbaugh says. And despite technological advances like GIS information, a lack of a visible street address can make it harder for responders to find the location of an emergency. “All of this is based around emergency response, so we want to let people know the importance of displaying addresses on their houses.”

Development Services Director Robert Griffin notes that all new construction must have street numbers visible before final approval of the permit, and Fire Inspectors ensure that addresses are on existing commercial structures during periodic inspections. State law says that all commercial property clearly display numbers. Still, many older buildings don’t have that information on display, or have them in places that are hidden from view.

“We do run into that quite often, where we can’t see the numbers. In case of a major emergency, that’s a situation,” says Asheville Fire Department Public Information Officer Kelley Webb. “You literally need to stand in the road and look and see if it is visible, especially at night. We need to be able to find you, and seconds do count.”