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NGA updates Geonames Database to support Nepal

 May 25, 2015

 Paul Frommelt
 Office of Corporate Communications

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has added to its database 7,682 new named geographic features and modified an additional 1,152 features in Nepal since the 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit the area in the early morning hours of April 25.

In 2009, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names  and the U.K.’s Permanent Committee on Geographical Names  agreed to change the transliteration system used on geographic names in Nepal. This change meant that nearly all the existing names in the U.S. board’s Geographic Names Database , which is maintained by NGA, were no longer spelled correctly and would require modification.

Nepal however was a low priority, and modification had yet to begin when the earthquake struck. Following the earthquake, NGA assembled a team to work on Nepal exclusively to make the necessary updates to support U.S. and international recovery activities, said Marcus Allsup, NGA Global Geonames Branch.

“It is critically important that all U.S. users are referring to specific places by the same name,” said Allsup. “This is why Congress and the Department of Defense have directed all federal government entities to use geographic names approved and supplied by the board for all products and reporting.”

According to Allsup, there are three primary drivers for determining what names are updated. The first is customer driven, based on priority. This decision is made by NGA and the intelligence community as a whole. The second is the availability of source material. Finally, the third driver is resources, including personnel with the required skills and funding for contract activity.

Agreed geographic names are required for any activity where maps or charts will be necessary, including disaster relief operations, air, sea and land navigation, and military mission planning and execution. Ideally these are the names used locally, and if the names are written in a non-roman script, will likely be recognizable when spoken locally. 

“U.S. users are likely not able to read  नेपाली भाषा, but with ‘Nepālī bhāṣā’ printed on the map in the U.S. military or aid worker’s hands, the local non-English-speaking public will understand the location in question,” said Allsup.

NGA continues to add new features and modify existing ones on a daily basis as relief efforts continue following a second 7.3-magnatude earthquake that hit near Mount Everest on May 12.