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Albany/Dougherty Planning Director: Addressing could be matter of life or death

City code offers specific directions for numeric property identifiers

Mailboxes with obscured address numerals create difficulty for first responders in the event of an emergency, Albany city officials say. (Special photo)

Mailboxes with obscured address numerals create difficulty for first responders in the event of an emergency, Albany city officials say. (Special photo)

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Albany city code requires that mailboxes at all residences have reflective address numerals on both sides that are at least 2 inches in height and that the numerals be clearly visible. (Special photo)

ALBANY — The Albany City Commission changed the name of the city’s Champion Lane to J.P. Champion Lane last year after an EMS crew mistakenly responded to a call on the downtown Albany street that was intended for a medical emergency on Champion Avenue in Southeast Albany.

That, city/county Planning and Development Services Director Paul Forgey said this week, is the primary reason residents and businesses should be reminded of the importance of the city’s addressing code.

“Emergency vehicles need to know where to respond, that’s obvious,” Forgey said. “But complying with the city’s addressing code makes sense on a lot of different levels.”

Added Planning’s GIS manager, Randy Weathersby, whose department, by code, is responsible for maintaining a file of all city addresses: “If people don’t comply with the code, there’s a good chance the post office will not deliver their mail, and they won’t be able to get their telephone or utilities hooked up. They’d actually be hurting themselves.”

City code, as it applies to addressing, is a detailed and sometimes complicated bit of legislation. It includes a number of sections with specific requirements, among them:

— For addressing purposes, the city of Albany is divided into four quadrants based on the intersection of Broad Avenue (for north and south distinction) and the Flint River (for east and west).

— Addresses are assigned based on a property’s driveway entrance, not on the front of its structure.

— Even-numbered addresses are given to properties on the southerly or easterly sides of a street or thoroughfare, while odd numbers are assigned to properties on the northerly and westerly sides.

— The addressee or lessee of a property is responsible for properly affixing street numbers easily visible to emergency personnel.

— Structures located within 50 feet of a property’s access road must affix reflective street address numbers onto the side of the structure facing the road. The numbers should be of a contrasting color to the background and at least 4 inches in height.

— Structures located within 50 feet of a property’s access road must affix reflective address numerals no less than 2 inches in height on both sides of the property’s mailbox.

— Structures located more than 50 feet from the property’s access road must meet the same requirements as those located within 50 feet but must also include 4-inch minimum reflective numerals to a post, fence, wall or other permanent structure no farther than 10 feet from the access road.

— Reflective numerals should be placed no lower than 4 feet and no higher than 7 feet above ground.

“These issues may seem small, but they’re actually quite significant,” Forgey said. “When you have a heart attack, you want paramedics to find your residence as quickly as possible. And when Publishers Clearinghouse is delivering that big check to you, you don’t want them giving up and moving on to the next person because they can’t find your house.”

Dr. Charles Gillespie, who under the direction of then-Gov. Jimmy Carter became the “father of EMS” in Georgia when he helped develop a statewide ambulance system, said he was clued in to the value of properly marked street addresses when he was a medical resident at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital.

“I rode along in the ambulances back then, and I quickly realized how important location identifiers were,” Gillespie, a retired physician, said. “In emergencies, every second counts, so you’ve got to get to the right place. When it comes to first responders, unless it’s a fire it’s hard to identify a location without proper identifiers.

“When we started the EMS program, there were places that painted address numbers on the curbing, which didn’t work because cars blocked the numbers or the numbers were too small. Probably 15 years ago was when there was a push to assign a numeric and a street address to every house in the country.”

Forgey and Weathersby admit that current technology makes finding a structure’s proper address much simpler than in the past. But they say such innovations as global positioning are by no means foolproof.

“Most all emergency vehicles now have GPS, and 80 percent of the time that will lead them to a proper address,” the Planning director said. “But that doesn’t eliminate the need for code that requires proper numbering. It’s in the interest of property owners — and business owners — to plainly display their proper address. Businesses lose customers when they don’t display addressing, but for residents it could be a matter of life or death.”