Category Archives: Training

How to Read US National Grid (USNG) Maps

USNG is the preferred method of mapping landmarks during operations for Allen CERT. Every CERT member should be comfortable receiving and communicating USNG coordinates. Not sure what it is? No problem, we’ve got you covered…

The purpose of the USNG according to the FGDC, is to “create a more interoperable environment for developing location-based services within the United States and to increase the interoperability of location services appliances with printed map products by establishing a nationally consistent grid reference system as the preferred grid for NSDI applications. The U.S. National Grid is based on universally-defined coordinate and grid systems and can, therefore, be easily extended for use worldwide as a universal grid reference system.” 

It resembles the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS). When the WGS84 datum or NAD83 datum is used, USNG and MGRS coordinates are “equivalent”.[2]

In addition, it has the advantage of being easily plotted on USGS topographic and other properly gridded maps by using a simple “read right and then up” convention where the user measures to the East and then North in linear increments. The coordinates are easily translated to distance as they are actually in meters rather than the more complex degree based increments of latitude and longitude. Thus the distance between two coordinates can quickly be determined in the field.

A USNG spatial address is broken down into three parts, the;

  • Grid Zone Designation; for a world-wide unique address.

  • 100,000-meter Square Identification; for regional areas.

  • Grid Coordinates; for local areas.

principal digits

This format allows a spatial address to be truncated (or another term might be abbreviated).  For example, stationary letterhead for the Department of Interior might portray the address as:

Department of Interior

1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

USNG: 18SUJ22850705 (NAD 83)

A complete USNG spatial address provides a unique value and is necessary for use with GPS receivers and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).  The USNG spatial address from the above stationary letterhead is for the building’s centroid.  On the other hand,  a Department of Interior employee might tell someone coming to visit from the local area, “Our south visitor’s entrance is located on 1849 C Street NW, at grid 22850694.”   Another spatial address might identify the north visitor’s entrance, and another set might identify the loading ramp for delivery vehicles.

Local Area; reading grid coordinates.  Grid coordinates are used to define a particular place within a local area (within a 100 by 100 kilometer area).  Coordinates are written along the sides of a map designating specific grid lines. (These grid lines are based on UTM values.)  The two larger numbers identify a grid line and are known as principal digits as depicted below.

reading grid coordinates, read right then up

To plot coordinate values, always read right, then up.  Coordinates are always given as an even number of digits so you know where to separate the easting and northing coordinates.  This allows you to abbreviate to the degree of precision you require within a local area.  Grid coordinates are used to define point features, such as a neighborhood, soccer field, a particular house, or even a parking place.  These require different levels of granularity.  For example;

4 digits – 2306 – locates a point with a precision of 1,000-meters (a neighborhood size area).

6 digits – 234064 – locates a point with a precision of 100-meters (a soccer field size area).

8 digits – 23480647 – locates a point with a precision of 10-meters (the size of a  modest home).

10 digits – 2348306479 – locates a point with a precision of 1-meter (within a parking spot).

In the following example, the Washington Monument is described as being located at grid 23480647 (think 2348 / 0647).  Read right to grid line 23 (using the principal digits).  Then count grid lines up to line 06.  This intersection is known as grid 2306.  This four digit value would give the location to within 1,000-meters.  Measuring right in meters from line 23, we find the Washington Monument is another 480 meters east. The complete easing component is 23480.  Measuring up in meters from grid line 06 the Monument is another 470-meters north.  The complete northing component is 05470.  We drop the 1-meter level values (shown as 0s in this case), and combining the easting and northing components, the grid coordinate is given as an eight digit value (to within 10-meters) as:

Grid: 23480647

Regional Area; 100,000-meter Square Identification.The USNG further divides the world into 100,000-meter squares and identifies these with two letter values.  The illustration below depicts the Washington, DC area.  In the spatial address for the Washington Monument (18SUJ23480647) you can see the monument falls within the 100,000-meter by 100,000-meter square designated UJ.  (Note: The yellow and red square outlines a 100 km x 100 km sized local area surrounding Washington, DC.)

washington monument

While the USNG is referred to as an alpha-numeric reference system for the UTM coordinate system, it is actually much more.  The lettering scheme for the 100,000-meter Square Identification is designed such that any two-letter combination will not repeat itself but every 18° of longitude and a similar area in latitude.  Thus any two letter prefix to a grid coordinate will provide a unique value within a very large area.  In the case of the Washington Monument, at UJ23480647, it’s location is uniquely designated within an area covering most of the east cost of the United States as depicted below.

power of truncated usng values

World-Wide Unique Values; Grid Zone Designations.  Working out from a local area, through regional areas, the last level of definition in a spatial address is the Grid Zone Designation.  The world is divided into 60 UTM Zones, each 6° degrees of longitude wide.  The numbering scheme for these begins at 180° longitude, and counts east.  The conterminous US is covered by Zones 10 through 19.   In a northing direction, the world is divided into 8° belts of latitude.  The conterminous US for example is covered by belts R, S, T, and U.  Thus the Washington, DC area falls within Grid Zone Designation 18S as depicted below.  This prefix identifies a unique US National Grid spatial address for the Washington Monument over the entire planet.  This complete, and unique spatial address is required for GPS receivers.

UTM/MGRS Grid Zone Designations

        To review, we can see a complete US National Grid spatial address contains three parts as we drill down to a unique location,

18S UJ 23480647

  • Grid Zone Designation (i.e. 18S).

  • 100,000-meter Square Identification (i.e. UJ ).

  • Grid coordinates of some even number of digits ranging from 2 to 10 (i.e. 23480647  In this case, eight digits identify a place of about the size of a modest home.).  You always read right, then up when plotting coordinates.

A spatial address is customarily written as a single string of values. Note how the horizontal datum (NAD 83) has been included:

USNG: 18SUJ23480647 (NAD 83)

For a more in depth presentation on USNG, click here

Toys for Your Backpacks

Last Thursday, more than 20 of us gathered in the roomy bay at Station 5 and shared ideas and examples of practical gear for CERT Responders. We examined it all, from apparel to bag styles to tools and medical supplies.

This year we took a different approach to the show-and-tell, going categorically instead of round-robin, which provided a much more interactive discussion as we stopped to philosophically discuss items of a similar application.

Captain Clamon’s team injected a wealth of insight throughout the evening and even gave us a demonstration of how to apply an Israeli compression bandage. We are grateful to our friends in the Allen Fire Department for their commitment to our growth and sustainability.

If you missed it, don’t worry – we documented all of the “cool” items and posted it online. Click here to take a look

Stay tuned for more training opportunities by checking our calendar and subscribing to posts on our website.

“Stop the Bleed” Training – March 31

First Defense Solutions is hosting a combination Active Shooter and Stop the Bleed training here in Allen this month.

The event is free to attend and will be held on March 31st, 08:45 – 12:00 at the Yeager Office Suites on South Waters Road (between Bethany and McDermott).

This is a great opportunity to learn survival tactics in an active threat, and how to help others once you have reached safety.

For full event details, and to register, click here.

Hurry while space is available!

Free Event: Amateur Radio Mentor Program

When: April 28, 2018
Time: 8:00am – 4:00pm
Location: Hella Shrine Center, 2121 Rowlett Rd., Garland, TX 75043

The Garland Hella Hams and the ARRL North Texas Section would like to invite all current and prospective Hams to attend Mentorfest! This event is a great way for Hams, especially those recently licensed, to meet and learn about a variety of subjects. Amateur radio operators have a great tradition of helping each other learn about and gain experience in the many facets of the hobby. Mentorfest is designed to build on this tradition by providing a place for Hams of all ages and experience levels to come together, exchange knowledge and make new friends while having fun and enjoying the great hobby of Amateur Radio.


  • Formal presentations on a number of topics.
  • Local clubs providing information on their activities.
  • “Elmers” (ham-speak for mentors) available for informal discussions on just about any topic.
  • Tours of emergency communications vehicles.
  • Representatives from the ARRL, ARES/RACES, REACT, National Weather Service and others showing how you can get involved.


In addition to the formal presentations, mentoring will be available on a large range of topics. Many amateur radio clubs, individual Hams and organizations with ties to amateur radio will be at Mentorfest to answer questions and provide demonstrations in a very informal setting. If you have something amateur radio related that you would like to show and tell about, please consider attending Mentorfest. Your excitement about a favorite subject might be an inspiration to another Ham. Come share your knowledge and experience. Email to be a mentor.


All ARRL affiliated clubs are encouraged to participate in Mentorfest by at least having an information table with club representatives. The ARRL will be promoting Mentorfest to new Hams so there should be opportunities for clubs to recruit new members. If your club or group is interested in participating in Mentorfest, please send E-mail to This event is free for everyone!


Volunteers are needed to help will the following tasks.

  • Parking lot control for EmComm vehicle static displays.
  • Greeters to help direct attendees to where to get the answers they seek.

Email to volunteer.

What’s in Your Bag?

The fourth-annual “Backpack Class” is back for 2018!

Whether you have some new gear to show off or you just want to get ideas on what to put in your pack, this is the event for you.

Join us at Station 5 on March 8th, 7:00 PM for the backpack pow-wow. Captain Clamon’s team (5A) will be joining us to provide their insight and expertise. Bring a folding/collapsible chair if you don’t want to sit on the floor.

Fire Station 5 is located at the intersection of McDermott and Shallowater Dr (map below).

2017 Disaster Simulation Debrief

Every year, a fresh group of Allen residents put 8 weeks and 24 hours of classroom training to the test by being throw into the ultimate simulated disaster. For the students, this day is a critical step to convert training into experience. However, equally important, is the opportunity for the Allen CERT program to exercise old and new tactics for managing an incident, and setting the class up for success. Following each simulated disaster, we make it a priority to sit around the table and evaluate our methods to ensure we are continually improving planning and execution for future classes. This year was no different, and the team – made up of veteran and brand new members – pulled together a robust list of strengths and opportunities identified in this year’s exercise that will translate into a better experience next year.

Big Wins

We set several new records this year; First, by facilitated the largest class in Allen CERT history this year with 44 students (now members) participating in the final exercise.

A large-scale call to action resulted in over 110 volunteers from around Allen playing various victim roles.

32 Allen CERT members showed up on “simulation day” to contribute 340 hours to the event’s success.

We also implemented new tools and techniques, such as reusable triage cards and a magnetic ICS accountability board, both of which proved valuable.

Key Strengths

Many of the volunteer victims were “walking wounded” which added more chaos to the mix and tested the class’ ability to clear the fog of a disaster scene.

The class managed to complete the exercise in record time!


Following the exercise, AFD 5C-shift hosted a panel discussion that was very engaging, helped stitch together holistic operations, and allowed the class an opportunity to evaluate their strengths.

To top it off, we were extremely fortunate to have transportation and security graciously donated by the Allen Independent School District!

Key Improvement Opportunities

Communications is one our strongest pillars and remains so because we prioritize its ongoing evaluation.

This year is no different and we recognized several opportunities to simplify, expand, and/or improve our disaster simulation communications model.

Resource check-in was quickly bottle-necked which resulted in a slow start to search and rescue operations. This was largely caused by the sheer size of the class but, with the increasing forecast of future classes, some excellent ideas were proposed for mitigating this in the future – a solution is being tested already with great initial results.

We quickly discovered that 110 volunteer victims introduce more oversight and management complexity. Going forward, a more robust briefing, instructions, and management model will help mitigate volunteer/responder confusion.


We make a huge effort to implement new tools and tactics into each disaster simulation which undoubtedly produces both positive and negative results. We consider this success because, without negative results, we do not innovate.

Hat tip to Traci Reavis for organizing this year’s (and past years’) disaster simulation and facilitating the debrief.

We are all looking forward to next  year!

Emergency Communications Class

If you are a licensed radio operator for CERT, this is what you’ve been waiting for!

On Thursday, November 16th, 7:00 PM at Central Station, the Allen CERT Communications team will host a training event aimed at teaching the basics of emergency communications, as well as cover essential hardware operations for Baofeng radios.

Topics include:

  • Proper hardware positioning
  • Antenna orientation
  • Radio vernacular
  • Call sign protocols
  • Do’s and Don’ts
  • Field operations

Radio programming services will be provided so don’t forget to bring those radios.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to cover two topics in one sitting, and walk away a more capable radio operator for CERT functions.

Welcome New Members

Allen CERT is proud to have added 44 new Responders to the roster this weekend, making this the largest class in our 12-year history!

On Saturday, November 4th, 44 Allen Residents wrapped up 24 hours of robust emergency response training with a simulated disaster that put their new skill set to the test.


Please join us in welcoming and congratulating our new family members:

Adriana Alvarez, Darcy Baldwin, Nate Bramble, Rebecca Buehner, Marcus Christiansen, Diana Clary, David Dobrenic, Mardi Echols, William Echols, Matthew Foster, Malachi Hackett, Wendell Hernandez, April Hoffman, Jaylene Hughes, Don Kaczkowski, Brendan Kilgore, John Korb, Christopher Kumnick, Melissa Kumnick, Ken Langley, Melissa LeVasseur, Crystal Lyons, Ashish Mody, Nidhi Mody, Carolyn Morgeson, Jeremey Olson, Ty Osborne, Ronald Perez, Ronnie Perez, Eleonore Pieper, Stephanie Potter, Tom Potter, Simon Shepherd, Judith Siemers, Michelle Sigle, Kimberly Smith, Bhaskar Srinivasan, Rebecca Stamey, Joseph Strand, Alexandra Thomas, David Vickers, Ty Westfall, Joe Wilson, Angelina Woods

We look forward to seeing you all again at the meetings and events to come.


ClassDisaster Simulation

Psychological First Aid Training

CERT Members:

In light of the recent disasters, we strongly encourage our CERT members to be trained in Psychological First Aid. After a disaster, the psychological effects are usually more widespread than the physical effects. This online training will be helpful to you and those around you when deployed to a disaster.

After talking to our CERT Coordinator, Chris Diltz, we decided if you take this online class, you can count this toward your volunteer time.  When you are done, send a note to Chris at with a scanned or photographed copy of your certificate of completion, along with how much time you took for the class.

John R. S. Mascio / K5RYU

Psychological First Aid Course Description:

PFA online includes a 6-hour interactive course that puts the participant in the role of a provider in a post-disaster scene. This professionally-narrated course is for individuals new to disaster response who want to learn the core goals of PFA, as well as for seasoned practitioners who want a review. It features innovative activities, video demonstrations, and mentor tips from the nation’s trauma experts and survivors. PFA online also offers a Learning Community where participants can share about experiences using PFA in the field, receive guidance during times of disaster, and obtain additional resources and training.   Click the link below to start the training.

Enroll For The Online Self-Paced Course:

For more info: