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The Guidelines define School as follows:

A building or building complex used as a learning center for children grades kindergarten through high school, excluding daycares and schools that are only kindergarten and younger.

INCLUDES: Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and private K‐12 schools

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Preschools, kindergartens, daycares, headstart programs

What is a school? 

The guidelines are quite clear that a school is a building where children are taught in any grade from 1 through 12. The important thing to remember is that daycares, pre-schools, headstart programs, and kindergarten-only schools are not included.

Schools are a challenging structure type because there are so many of them! Every year new ones are opening, and old ones are closing.

Where can I find authoritative lists of schools?

On this website, look in the Data Sources page for your State to see if volunteers have listed authoritative data sources for schools. 

There are three types of schools: public, charter, and private. Public schools and charter schools are regulated by State Departments of Education, and for this reason there usually are good authoritative lists of these schools on the State Department of Education websites. States are divided up into School Districts, many of which have web pages which are the most authoritative place to look for information.

Private schools are more difficult to sort out because there are no authoritative lists, and they tend to open and close more often than public schools. Here are some non-authoritative places you can look for private school information:
  • State Department of Education websites: these may have lists of  private schools, but in general they are non-authoritative because they may only include non-public schools whose school administrators have requested to be on the list.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics maintains a database of private schools. This database is a result of a voluntary survey that they send out every two years. Their website allows a search for private schools by city, county, or state.
  • The Great Schools website has an online searchable database.
  • The National Association of Independent Schools has an online searchable database.
  • The National Parochial Schools Association lists parochial schools by State.
  • Look on the Data Sources page on this website for your State to see if there are any regional or local sources of private school information

Why does the Structures database contain so many schools that no longer exist?

One original source of information for the Structures database was US Geological Survey topographic maps which were produced from about 1879 to 1992. These maps showed many of the old pioneer schools that were established as a result of the Land Ordinance of 1785. This Act of Congress caused much of the 30 western States to be surveyed and divided into townships six-miles square; in turn each township was divided into 36 numbered square-mile sections, and section No. 16 of each township was to be reserved for a schoolhouse. And many of the resulting one-room schoolhouses still existed and were mapped when the older USGS topo maps were produced.

For volunteers who are history buffs, it can be quite enjoyable to zoom in on these old school locations in the Potlatch editor, and switching over to the Aerial Imagery view, see if any sign is left of these old schools. Sometimes there is a building, sometimes a foundation, and sometimes nothing but a wheat field. A few are still even in use as schools! Those that are no longer in existence or being used as schools should be deleted from the database.

How do I handle schools with many grades?

Many schools, especially rural schools, have K-12 classes all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information at the school website, or, if there is no school website, then at the State Department of Education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one structure for each school, which each structure symbol contained within the footprint of the building.


 College and University

The Guidelines define College and University as follows:

A building or building complex used as an institution of higher learning that grants a degree at the completion of a course of studies.

INCLUDES: 4‐year universities, community colleges, and technical colleges

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Trades schools such as cosmetology schools


What is a College/University? 

The Guidelines definition of College/University is quite specific, and the key factor is that an institution must grant a degree; there are 4 types of degrees: Associate, Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral. 

Degree-granting generally is regulated by the States, and so each State has a Higher Education Agency which oversees degree-granting institutions. The US Department of Education has a list of these State Higher Education Agencies. These agencies often maintain lists of the degree-granting institutions in their State (refer to the Data Sources pages on this website for each State to find out where to find these lists).

For the most part, this degree-granting requirement leaves out vocational schools (also called trade schools, career schools, or technical schools), which generally grant certificates but not degrees. An exception is technical colleges which do grant degrees.

A separate issue is accreditation. There are many accreditation organizations which generally are private professional organizations. Each State Higher Education Agency may determine which accreditation organizations have recognized authority within that State. Usually an institution may not grant a degree unless it has been accredited; however there are exceptions to this rule – some States allow religious colleges to grant degrees even if they are not accredited. Conversely, there may be schools that are accredited but do not give out degrees (only certificates).

A second, less obvious stipulation in the definition of College/University, is that there be a building used as an institution of higher learning. This leaves out online universities, unless they teach classes in their buildings as well as online.

Where do I place a College/University structure point?

In general, each college/university campus should be represented by a single structure point placed on the administrative building for that college/university. If one does not have firsthand knowledge of the location of the administration building, it can usually be gleaned from a brief examination of the school's web page. If it cannot be determined where the administration building is located, then place the structure point on a building at the center of the main cluster of buildings on the campus.

A University campus may contain several colleges or schools (ie College of Arts, College of Sciences, School of Business, School of Medicine), but so long as these are units of the same University and located on the same campus, then they should be represented by a single point. However in some cases, separate institutions may share the same campus (for example, the Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado is home to Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the Community College of Denver) – in this case each separate institution should be represented by a point. 

Some Colleges, especially in an urban environment, may have multiple campuses or widely dispersed buildings. This is somewhat of a grey area, but in general a separate campus should be represented by its own structure point. However, if a dispersed college location consists of a single building, or a few rooms in a single building, then you will have to use your own judgment as to whether it is important enough to be considered a campus and therefore justify a new structure point. 

Medical Schools that are co-located with Hospitals should be represented by a college/university structure point only if the medical school is large enough to have at least one building separate from the Hospital; if so, the associated Hospital would also be represented as a Hospital structure type.

 Fire Station / EMS Station

The Guidelines define Fire Stations and EMS Stations as follows:

A building that contains fire‐fighting equipment and personnel or a provider of combined fire‐fighting and rescue services.

INCLUDES: Fire departments with combined emergency medical services operations and/or rescue services  

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Ambulance stations not part of fire‐fighting services, fire equipment storage facilities, fire hall meeting facilities

What is a Fire Station/EMS Station? 

The basic requirement for a Fire Station/EMS Station is that the structure contains a fire engine. It may or may not also house an ambulance. It probably has fire personnel visiting it on a regular basis to keep the equipment clean and shiny and ready to go.

Where can I find authoritative lists of  Fire Stations? 

The US Fire Administration has the most complete nationwide list of fire departments. Their list is the result of a voluntary National Fire Department Census wherein during the years 2001 to 2004 fire departments filled out and handed in survey forms. The USFA is "continuously working to encourage more fire departments to participate in the census," however, since the original census now is almost 10 years old, some of the informaiton is out of date. The list can be downloaded for the entire nation or by State. The list is by Fire Department, so it will you tell you how many stations a Fire Department has, but not where they are. There may be some contact information, such as address, phone number, and website.

The Homefacts website has a list of fire departments by city and county (scroll to the bottom of the page to select a State); but the source of this data is unknown and its accuracy varies.

Refer to the State Data Sources section of this website where additional data sources may be listed for each State. County and city websites also often have information about fire departments; and counties often have an Office of Emergency Management where information can be found.

Fire Department web pages are the best source of data, but may not specify the locations of stations. Stations can generally be recognized in Aerial Imagery or in Street View on Google because the stations have large bays with overhead doors and large concrete pads outside where the engines can park.

How do I name a Fire Station? 

Try to find out the official name of the station; it often has the format: <fire-department-name> <station-name>. For example "Denver Fire Department Station 1". Official station names sometimes have either a "-" or a "/" in the station name, and while the Attribute Guidelines say that special characters should be avoided, they can be used if necessary to document an official fire station name.
Why are there no authoritative lists of fire/EMS stations? 

It seems surprising that there are no authoritative lists of fire/EMS stations, but this is because historically it has been felt that it is more important that they can find you, rather than for you to find them. They can find you through the 911 system. The 911 system generally is maintained at the county level, where 911 calls are routed to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). While you are talking to a 911 operator at a PSAP, various manual and automated systems are used to pinpoint the location of the call, to find the nearest fire/EMS (or police) station, and to get directions for how to drive to the scene of the call.
However in recent years, with the increased interest in the coordination of responses to public emergencies, there is a recognition that databases of emergency response assets are important to the public and to Offices of Emergency Management at all levels of government.
 Law Enforcement

The Guidelines define Law Enforcement as follows:

A building that houses police stations or sheriffs’ offices.

INCLUDES: Police stations, sheriffs' office, state trooper or highway patrol

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Police offices in shopping malls or strip malls, federal law enforcement, park police, school police, railroad police, postal inspectors, locations with administrative functions only

What is a Law Enforcement structure? 

Law enforcement structures consist of the offices of state troopers, county sheriff's, and city cops. However, if a county sheriff's deputy works out of his house in a rural area, we do not include that location as a structure point (we never capture private residences as structure points).

Where can I find authoritative lists of Law Enforcement structures? 

There are no authoritative lists of Law Enforcement structures.

The closest thing to a national list may be at the USACops website, but it is not clear where this data comes from or how complete it is. There also are lists of police stations at the Homefacts website, but again it is unclear where this data comes from or how complete it is.

The State Data Sources page of this website may have information on lists for your State; in particular, there usually is a State Patrol website which lists the State Patrol troop offices and posts for that State. County and city websites may list law enforcement offices within their boundaries.

How should I name Law Enforcement structures? 

County sheriff's offices should be named like this: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Police departments for smaller cities generally have only one office which should be named like this: Lakewood Police Department; but larger cities may have Precinct or Division offices which would be named like this: Denver Police Department District 1 Station (NW).
 Prison / Correctional Facility

The Guidelines define Prison / Correctional Facility as follows:

A building or complex for the confinement of persons convicted of crimes.

INCLUDES: State or federal prisons, long-term juvenile detention facilities

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Short‐term holding facilities such as a jail at a police station or court house, half-way houses, minimum security locations, prison camps or work sites, administrative offices

What is a Prison/Correctional Facility? 

A Prison/Correctional Facility consists of federal and state prisons and juvenile detention facilities. It is important to note that city and county jails are not included

Where can I find authoritative lists of Prison/Correctional Facilities? 

The authoritative list of Federal prison facilities may be found at the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Only Institutions, Private Facilities, and Correctional Complexes should be included -- not offices or training centers.

Refer to the State Data Sources pages on this website to find information about data sources for State prisons; in general, each State has a Department of Corrections website which lists private and public prisons in that State.

Where do I place a Prison/Correctional Facility structure point? 

If a prison has a single large building, place the point at the center of the building. If the prison does not have a distinctive single building, then place the point at the center of the prison facility.

If a prison complex has more than one named facility, each with its own separate grounds or building, then place a prison point for each facility. For example, the Florence Federal Correction Complex has three facilities (Florence Federal Correctional Institution, Florence High Security United States Penitentiary, and Florence Administrative Maximum United States Penitentiary), and therefore should have three structure points. It may be difficult to determine from aerial imagery which facility is which, but you may be able to tell from Google Street view, from an on-line facility map, or, for federal prisons, by examining the photo of the prison entrance on its webpage and comparing this to the building footprint in the satellite image. If it cannot be determined which facility is which, then place all facility points adjacent to each other near the centroid of the entire facility.

How do I name a Prison/Correctional Facility? 

Use the name of the facility as it appears on the facility website. For Federal prisons, the website uses several formats for names, but use the most commonly-used format where the prison name comes last, for example, United States Penitentiary Florence High.
 State Capitol

The Guidelines define State Capitol as follows:

A building occupied by a State legislature.

This is a pretty straightforward structure type. A useful list is the US50 website's list of Governor's addresses. Place the structure point at the center of the capitol building.
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