Finding your way

Finding your way

Reading Time: 4 minutes

scout map badge

Having a sense of direction is important; more so when you’re not familiar with the area, or when it’s time critical that you leave.

Wherever you are right now, stop and indulge yourself in this little task

  1. Imagine there is an emergency and you are instructed to “go home or head North”
  2. Point in the direction of ‘home’.
  3. Point in the direction of North.
  4. Did you find that easy?

It became apparent on a recent holiday to Europe that some people struggle with this, but despite occasionally confusing left with right I’m able to get my bearings and navigate around fairly quickly and accurately. However, there will always be occasions when you need to find somewhere specific and therefore turn to a map for help. Increasingly this means tapping in a destination to a smartphone and following the directions, but there’s still the option of physical maps.

I expect that there is a lot of literature out there (like this) regarding the cognitive skills required to interpret maps, but thankfully it’s something which comes easily to me without much thought.

I had a quick think about how maps can be useful in a resilience context and came up with the following. I’m sure there are many more examples of how maps can be useful (perhaps I’ll come back to this at a later stage)

To appreciate risk – it’s fairly obvious to me that low-lying areas or those near lakes and rivers are likely to be more at risk from flooding

  • To find your way from A to B – this is probably the most obvious way that maps are useful, especially in an unfamiliar area.
  • Communicating information – being able to plot “the emergency is here” or “this road is blocked” can be much more effectively done with the aid of maps
  • To conduct a remote assessment – I need to get away from this hazard, but I know there is a steep hill/river/etc in this direction so I’ll go this way

Providing you know, and can interpret, what you’re looking at I find maps an extremely useful tool – which is why I get frustrated when they aren’t available (which seemed to be the case in both New York and Berlin!).

Having dropped out of Scouts a long time ago, I decided to take a look at their criteria. Would I still be able to obtain a Scouts badge for map reading?

  1. Understand how to use the key of an Ordnance Survey map                                 Yes, although I always get the Church symbols mixed up!
  2. Be able to use six-figure grid references                                                                    It’s been some time since I had to do this, but I’m confident I still could
  3. Explain how to find north on a map and how to set a map to north                               I wouldn’t have any difficulty with this, but ask me to convincingly use a compass and I’d be struggling
  4. Locate your home on an Ordnance Survey map                                                     This is my natural instinct when confronted with any map; where am I on this map (often this is marked on public maps)
  5. Understand contour lines on an Ordnance Survey map                                          Yes, having constructed a model of contours out of acetate at school, I think I’d be ok
  6. Be able to identify ten Ordnance Survey map symbols                                        Again, so long as it wasn’t differentiating between a Church with a tower and one with a steeple I’m confident about this
  7. Use an Ordnance Survey map during an outdoor activity                                              I haven’t done this in a long time – perhaps next time I’ll take one with me
  8. Know the first eight points of a compass and use them during an outdoor activity  Never Eat Shredded Wheat”, in fact, I think I could get all the way to 16 compass points…but asking me to use one would be my downfall.

Ok , based on that I’m awarding myself the badge (I haven’t decided where to sew it yet!).

But to go back to an earlier point – with increased reliance on smartphones – are we increasingly vulnerable? With some smartphone mapping systems not being as accurate as you’d expect, and the ever possible risk that your phone will run out of battery, it’s vital that we don’t become too reliant on them.

Here’s my thoughts on being resilient in the absence of a map. If you’ve got any additional thoughts or experiences, drop them in the comments box below.

  • Ask someone – it always makes me happy when I’m able to direct someone in the right direction
  • Educated guess – I generally know the broad direction that I’m travelling, or the direction of home – I’ve been known to walk in a direction until I get to a known landmark or road

Going back to the Scouts, given their motto is “Be Prepared”, perhaps there are other scouting skills which could have a resilience application. I’ll have a look at what other badges I could award myself soon!


Image source: The Scout Association

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