Friday 11 May 2012

Fire hydrant locations are confidential

Strolling around the village I saw a man working in the street. The van had a Humberside Fire and Rescue logo and the man was fixing a hydrant sign to a wall. A quick chat established that he was checking they were present and replacing imperial hydrant signs with metric ones. I asked him if any data about the location of the hydrants is available. He said he would ask someone to call me about it.

A little later I got a call from HF&R. I asked if the location of fire hydrants was available and was told in no uncertain terms that they were not. I explained about OpenStreetMap and the caller told me that OSM had no reason to add hydrants, adding that their locations are confidential. When I said that as the data is not available I would just continue to add the ones I see as part of surveys he repeated that their locations are confidential and added that they belong to Yorkshire Water, the local water company. He asked why I wanted to put hydrants into OSM and I told him that such details make a richer map.

The locations of hydrants are hardly confidential, there is a yellow sign showing where each one is. I was a bit surprised by the HF&R man's indignant reaction. It does seem that the notion of opening up data has not reached into that public body at all.

I have only added a few hydrants experimentally and stopped because it didn't seem worth the effort. I may add a few more, but not, it seems, based on HF&R data, and only under the cover of darkness.


Harry Wood said...

Haha. "Confidential". I hope you laughed at him.

vdp said...

I'd say they have to deal with a lot of vandalism, and are afraid that a "freely available list of hydrants" would make things worse. Cue which explains that vandalism costs the not-so-big town of Kilkenny 300€ a week (!).

Maybe the way to convince authorities is to explain that making the info public wont make vandalism any worse, and might actually improve things (my making the community feel like they own the props, rather than degradations being someone else's problem)

Steve said...

That's hilarious. But you know, if you've never even heard of the concept of licensing, or open source or whatever, I can kind of see how you might think it could be "confidential".

The bit that's harder to understand is why on earth anyone would think that *fire hydrant* locations should be "confidential". They're public safety devices after all.

Andy Mabbett said...

Submit an FoI request.

Chris Hill said...

I decided to remain polite, who knows when our paths may cross again.

Chris Hill said...

The message of Open data is a hard one for some people ti grasp.

Chris Hill said...

FoI responses are copyright, so I would still need permissionto use any data in a reply. Somehow I don't think permission would be forthcoming. :-)

Andy Mabbett said...

Once the FoI response is received (or published - do it via "What Do They Know"), you have demonstrated that the locations are nor confidential, and can lobby your local councillors who sit on your fire authority to press for use of an open licence. Or use the list as a source to check against when doing on-the-ground surveys.

In any case, what confidential items are tagged with bright yellow signage?"

Unknown said...

Calling these locations confidential when each has a big yellow sign would be like, ooh, putting up a street sign to a secret nuclear bunker... wait, what?

A similar situation happened with UK post boxes - the post office wouldn't give out the exact location so someone built a web app where people could locate post boxes more precisely:

Chris Hill said...

The dracos site was an interesting way to display the information, though it might actually break the copyright of Royal Mail as FoI replies are still copyright. It also caused a few misguided people to just add postboxes to OSM willy-nilly when actually the data was so poor it certainly needed surveys to check it. I did some postbox surveying myself.

Andy said...

Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 apparently gives a punishment of up to 10 years for collection of information likely to be useful to terrorists.

Although I think keeping the locations of something in public streets silly, I could imagine the government using that law to stop you. Quite scary I think.

Unknown said...

I put on events and at an event safety advisory group meeting was told by the fire and rescue officer there that i could not cover with market stalls or anything else the fire hydrants so how can one do that if they won't tell you where they are.

Bill McMullin said...

I operate a comprehensive real estate portal covering Nova Scotia, Canada, property. We extensive data, including municipal data. We don't have fire hydrants but I recently asked the Halifax Water Commission (who own the hydrants) for location data. To my surprise, they cited 'security concerns' for 'critical infrastructure' as the reason they wouldn't provide the data. I asked which policy or legislation prohibits the disclosure but they couldn't refer to any. Stranger than fiction but true in 2013.

Bill McMullin

Anonymous said...

My insurance company wants to know the distance of my dwelling from a fire hydrant...if I was moving to a new location that information would be helpful prior to the move.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Mabbett


I am writing to confirm that the West Midlands Fire Service has now
completed its search for the information you requested on 16th February

Please find below a summary of our findings.


Please can you supply me with a list of the locations of all the Fire
Hydrants within your administrative area.
Please could you also include canal access hatches, if you still maintain
these. If so, please indicate which is which,or provide two separate
I would like to know the exact location (longitude & latitude) if known,
or if that is not held I would like the nearest street address.
I would like this data, please, in a format which I can edit, such as a
CSV file, or one which I can enter into a mapping service, such as a GPX/
KML file.


Unfortunately it is not possible to fulfil your request and it has been
refused under Section 24 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section
24 provides that information is exempt from disclosure under Section
1(1)b if it is required for the purposes of safeguarding national
National security includes more than the security of the UK, its military
defence and its systems of government, it also involves co-operation with
other states in combating international terrorism and guarding against
actions targeted at other states which may impact on the UK and its
Safeguarding national security also includes protecting potential targets
even if there is no evidence that an attack is imminent and the water
network could be perceived to be a potential target.

Reason why the Section 24 exemption applies.

The water network is part of the critical national infrastructure and we
are only provided access to the hydrant information to fulfil our
statutory role of fire-fighting. In addition the information is received
as part of an agreement with water utility companies and we are not
permitted to release the information.

Public Interest Test Reasons.

West Midlands Fire Service has concluded that the public interest in
maintaining this exemptions outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
This decision is based upon the following reasons:

In assessing the balance of the public interest test, we are particularly
mindful that the Act works on an ‘applicant blind’ basis and that by
providing information to one person, we set a precedent for making it
available to anyone else who asks for it.

There is a strong public interest in the authority doing all it can to
protect the critical national infrastructure and national security. This
is one of the primary reasons why we hold the requested information and
disclosing it would undermine this purpose, which would not be in the
public interest. Although there has to be a real possibility that the
disclosure would undermine national security, the impact does not need to
be direct or immediate.

While there may be some public interest in providing details for
commercial purposes, the benefit of this does not outweigh the potential
consequences of endangering the health and welfare of people.

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your
request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision
please write to The Public Relations Department, West Midlands Fire
Service, 99 Vauxhall Road, Birmingham, B7 4HW.

Thank you

Kind Regards

Asif Malik
Data Management
Email: [1][email address]
Tel: 0121 380 6561
West Midlands Fire Service.

Filmaholic said...

It appears someone has managed to get the information you seek. See link below