Use effective navigation

Control Measure Knowledge


Maps can enable accurate planning of a journey, giving a good idea of landmarks and features passed along the route, as well as the distance to be travelled. Maps can provide important information to aid navigation, planning, decision-making and risk management when getting to or at an incident.

Personnel should not totally rely on satellite navigation systems; knowledge of the topography of the area cannot be underestimated as an important tool for arriving promptly at an incident.

Navigation aids

Navigation aids may include:

  • Satellite navigation systems
  • GPS devices
  • Other online mapping systems, such as Google Maps
  • Applications such as what3words

Interoperability and major or civil emergencies

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, working in partnership with Ministry of Defence and Ordnance Survey, has created the civil protection common map symbology, which is a set of common map symbols to promote interoperability between emergency responders.

Mapping for Emergencies (MfE) is a free service provided to the emergency services whenever there is a threat to or loss of life. Paper mapping or geographic information can be supplied to assist in responding to a major or civil emergency. The MfE service supports the resilience community and is available free of charge 24 hours a day, every day of the year. They can be contacted by dialling 03456 050505.

Ordnance Survey information

The Ordnance Survey website provides information, in written and video formats, on how to read maps and use a compass.

Their guide, Map reading from the beginner to the advanced map reader, contains topics including:

  • Map symbols and scales
  • Grid references and National Grid lines

Reading contours and relief

  • Using a compass
  • Navigating at night or in bad weather

Grid references

The Ordnance Survey provides information about using four-figure references (a single kilometre square on an Ordnance Survey map) and six-figure references (a 100 metre square in a single kilometre square on an Ordnance Survey map).

However, fire and rescue services may also use:

  • 10-figure references: A one-metre square, commonly used in GPS devices
  • 12-figure references: A one-metre square, commonly used in mobile data terminals (MDTs). The two letter prefix for the 100 kilometre square, as shown on the National Grid, is converted into numeric format.

If fire and rescue services use multiple grid reference formats, personnel should know how to convert between the different types of grid reference.


Many emergency services are able to use the what3words application. This enables callers to provide a three word address when they request assistance. The application interprets the three words into a precise 3m2 location.


Local features

Record and be able to provide up-to-date information to operational personnel about local features that may cause delays when navigating to an incident. For example:

  • Level crossings
  • Toll or swing bridges
  • Tunnels
  • Ferries and their sailing times

Fire and rescue services should know how to contact transport operators to request assistance, if their services or activities may affect response times.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions