What’s Wrong With Eircode?

What’s wrong with Eircode?

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  • Poor Design
  • No Meaningful Testing
  • Database driven
  • Major Data Protection Security risk
  • Only for dwellings
  • No Logic – Easily Confused
  • Requires constant updating / Delayed Updates
  • Difficult to integrated with software / devices
  • Limited use for emergency services & may cost lives
  • No use for utility companies or local authority infrastructure
  • No use for transport company infrastructure
  • Limited use for tourism
  • No use for temporary events

What’s wrong with Eircode?

Eircode – Poor Design (No design?)

No competition was ever held for the design of Eircode and as such the code has the appearance of being “designed by committee”. Eircode is not the code recommended by the Post Code board, Consultant reports or specified in Tender documents.

An inexpensive design competition would have offered the DCENR an overview of the innovative code technologies already in existence. This would have allowed a more informed decision on the postcode to be made saving the department money when it came to adoption, delivery and maintenance.  Essentially Eircode is dumb with no built in intelligent features as befitting a 21st century design.

Eircode – No Meaningful Testing

To my knowledge no large scale field trials have been carried out on Eircodes and there has been no independent oversight.

Eircode – Database Driven

The main problem with a database driven postcode is that to use the postcode you need access to the database.  For persons out and about this means that they must either have a copy of the database on a handheld computer or smartphone or they must have access to the database using an over the air (OTA) connection.

It has been reported that the full Eircode database will be in the region of 2GB in size and just to put that in perspective the full Navteq (maps& postcodes) for ALL of Europe are also approximately 2GB. If the database does indeed end up at 2GB then the vast majority of satnav devices already in use will not be able to physically fit the Eircode database and detailed maps of Ireland.  This is if GPS manufacturers support the inclusion of Eircode on their devices which is very doubtful for the less abundant in car satnavs.

It has been suggested that not all of the database is required and that users need only to load maps for select regions but this ignores reality. Business uses require the full country (& NI) to be on their satnav at all times as many work all over the country, ditto for tourists. Manufacturers of mapping do not split below Ireland and UK level because of market size – Ireland has low value on its own

The alternative to having on-board database access is to have over the air (OTA) access to the database but this requires good 3G/4G connectivity and as am sure you are aware that mobile provider data coverage is poor to non-existent in the very areas that you will need to rely most on your postcode to navigate. OTA is not available at all when you run out of credit and no emergency data use provided for by network providers.

So on-devices databases go out of date right after an update and OTA databases suffer from coverage problems and a database in itself is expensive to maintain.

Eircode – Major Data Protection Security Risk

Using an on-board database will lead to the situation whereby there will be many thousands of devices in existence with a FULL copy of the entire Eircode database.  This database will have to allow access to the GPS device so postcodes can be looked up.  There will be no impediment to copying this database from the GPS device onto a server and either cracking its security or just reverse engineering the database by reading out every possible Eircode permutation. This will be a relatively simple and quick task because there are only 2 million approx. addresses, less if individual apartments are removed.

Having a postcode reliant on a central database also introduces a single point of failure and a single target for “denial of service” attacks etc. Obviously redundancy and replication will be used but this increases cost.

Another type of threat a database faces is a silent data poisoning attack i.e. data could be modified so that postcodes could be switched, re-directed or otherwise made unusable.  Also remember that if a database is available “Over The Air” then copies of the database will be a target for attack 24/7. Some of the biggest companies and organisations in the world have been hacked, I don’t believe that Eircode security can be guaranteed at all and this is before we even consider internal personnel security breaches.

Why proceed with a system that is open to attack why not design out the security threat.

Eircode – Only for Dwellings (With a letterbox!)

This is probably one of the most limiting aspects to the Eircode format and has implications for emergency services response times for non-dwelling incidents, it also makes Eircode useless for any structure or location without a post-box.  I will cover the limitations of this further on.

Eircode – No Logic Easily Confused

The problem with a random code is that it cannot be memorised by persons who do not use the code on a regular basis. One example would be a manual parcel sorting depot where humans read the address on a parcel and then place it in a particular bay or cage for onward delivery, random codes will only add to address confusion unless every worker has a handheld computer with access to the database, this would be too slow and too expensive to use day to day.

Emergency services especially will suffer from confusion with a code with no built in safeguards and that needs database access at all times. Having to always look up a code before knowing even the rough destination will introduce delays and may cost lives.

Eircode – Requires constant updating / Delayed Updates

Updating a satnav is a slow process, depending on the update coverage required the mapping download alone could be between 300MB and 2,000MB even before the Eircode database is added.  On fast broadband this will not be much of an issue but lots of people and businesses throughout the country have very slow broadband.  The result of this will be that people will be very reluctant to update their GPS devices and the consequence of not updating will be that they end up using an out of data Eircode databases that will no longer be accurate.  If there is a user cost to update the database then this will reduce the upgrade potential even more and therefore the uptake by the general public. For emergency services and utility companies it will mean that vehicles may have to be taken off the road on a regular basis to perform updates to the database or that an expensive maintenance and update regime will need to be created to keep tally of portable devise and their update state. In short this is just not practically feasible.

This also asks the question of how quickly you can get an Eircode.  If you are building a house in the countryside how do you get deliveries without an Eircode and how completed will a house have to be before you can apply for an Eircode. Once you do apply for an Eircode how long before you get one and how long before it appears on the master database. If people don’t update their own copy of the database on their satnav or car they will never be able to use Eircode to find you.

Eircode – Difficult to integrate with software / devices

This comes back to the Eircode design being reliant on a database and any device or application needing access to a code needs access to the full database.  Many older satnav devices will not have enough ROM to store the database file and access by newer devices over 3G/4G will be reliant on sufficient OTA broadband coverage.  Of course satnavs do not have 3G/4G connectivity so there is a good chance the vast majority of satnav units out in the wild will never receive Eircode compatibility again affecting uptake by small business, the general public and tourists.  The emergency services cannot rely on OTA availability to carry out their respective missions and an on-board database is much more expensive and resource demanding than a simple algorithm.

Eircode – Limited use for emergency services and may cost lives.

There are 3 ways that Eircodes could cost lives either through omission or confusion.

  1. Firstly because Eircodes are only for dwellings it means they are absolutely no use for Road Traffic Accidents which are a large percentage of call outs for the emergency services. Organisations such as the National Ambulance Service have pointed out to me that “At no stage has the NAS or myself (Martin Dunne) outlined that this system is the answer to all our needs in relation to rapid access to patients etc., however it is a mechanism that will assist and fill the void that exists at the moment.”
    Why not give the NAS and other emergency services what they want, rapid access to patients? Why have a system that only covers 50% of incidents? Add farm accidents, forestry accidents, inland waterway and mountaineering accidents to the long list where Eircodes will be of no use. There is merit in the suggestions by IFESA that Eircodes will cost lives and these warnings must be heeded.
  2. Secondly because of the random nature of Eircodes the possibility exists in some locations whereby a single digit error may send emergency services many 10s of km in the wrong direction. For example Donegal has the 3rd highest km of roads per county and will be covered by three Eircode districts and each one of these districts will have >2,000km of roads meaning a single digit error for example between A65-ABCC and A65-ABCD could be 100km. Of course there are methods of verifying the address to narrow things down but why not have a code with built in error checking rather than relying on interrogating someone who called 999/112 who may not speak English, may be drunk or under the influence of drugs, or badly injured etc. Why not remove the potential for confusion in the first place?
  3. Thirdly, bizarrely Eircodes are a secret and so you will not know your neighbours or a strangers Eircode without being specifically told it. If you happen to be a tourist on a drive in a rural area and you come across a house on fire you may have no means to direct the emergency services to the fire location.  No possibility exists with Eircode to generate a code on the spot unlike algorithm based codes which all offer this feature. This was changed on launch because bizarrely An Post postmen and postwomen are not equipped to use an Eircode to actually deliver an Eircode….you can’t make this up

In all 3 cases above Eircodes could cost lives either directly because of errors or indirectly because a better system would improve response times leading to more lives being saved. How can any minister stand over a system that will cost lives?

Eircode – No use for utility companies or local authority infrastructure.

Because Eircodes are only for dwellings that will receive mail from An Post.  They will be of no use for utility companies or local authorities looking to manage dispersed infrastructure. Currently a multitude of different utilities, semi states and councils use their own systems for marking public lighting, telegraph poles and bridges etc. with Interpretation not available to the Public. Having one simple off the shelf system would save resources within each organisation, creating efficiency’s and saving money.

Furthermore Neil Mc Donald of the FTAI summed it up when he listed locations that will never have an Eircode….workshops, farm buildings, windmills, piers, jetties, fields, large fixed assets, lay-­‐bys, points of interest, lanes, archaeological sites, roads, natural features, intersections, accident black-­‐spots, pylons, parks, motorways, junctions, antennae, wells, graveyards, pumping stations, viewing points, manholes/utility access points, car-­‐parks, beaches, level‐crossings, transformers, bridges, forests, bogs, lakes, playing pitches, cycle-­‐tracks, picnic areas, public toilets, walkways such as the Wild Atlantic Way.

Eircode – No use for transport company infrastructure

Companies like Irish Rail have a very large infrastructure to manage and do this using proprietary databases for bridges & level crossings etc. But the situation could exist whereby a truck could knock down a bridge and demolish or otherwise hide the sign showing the proprietary database name for that particular bridge.  A one system fits all would allow persons on site to generate a code for that site and possibly prevent a derailment.

Again because only dwellings with post boxes will get an Eircode they will be no use for bus stops or minor train stations.  We should be making ease of access to public transport a priority and Eircode will not help with this.

Eircode – Limited use for Tourism

Obviously for tourists with a compatible smartphone app or satnav Eircode will be of help trying to find a hotel or restaurant.  However when it comes to heritage sites Eircodes will again be no use.  No use for tourists visiting dolmens, stone circles, ruined castles etc.

An increasing number of tourists are starting to visit Ireland for walking and cycling routes and again Eircode are an utter fail when it comes to highlighting points of interest along these routes. If we want to grow our tourism numbers why are we not acting in a coherent manner and doing everything possible to direct and help tourists once they are here?

A Duty of Care responsibility also arises if the State encourages tourists to visit remote locations such as the Wild Atlantic Way. The state must provide reasonable means for public safety, signage, and fixed rescue points etc. unfortunately Eircode provide no mechanism to assist in these scenarios.

Eircode – No use for temporary events

Eircode has no provision for temporary postcodes for temporary dwellings.

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