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County FIPS Codes Explained

Overview:

FIPS codes are unique 5-digit geographic place codes applied to states, counties, and specific areas of possession within the United States. The acronym “FIPS” stands for Federal Information Processing System and was established in the early 1970s by the Government agency NIST. NIST, which stands for “National Institute for Standards and Technology,” created FIPS codes to establish government-mandated industry standards. These codes were used between government agencies and other technical organizations to ensure consistency and uniform practice. These codes have evolved over the years from a digit structure standpoint, and the current FIPS codes being utilized are the FIPS 5-2 (state codes) and the FIPS 6-4 (county codes). These codes were dropped in 2008 by the NIST and replaced with INCITS 38-2009 for the 5-2 code and INCITS 31-2009 for the 6-4 code. Numerous federal organizations still use the FIPs codes across the United States.  

Use Cases:

While many Government Agencies have dropped the usage and application of FIPS codes, a few organizations still use them to this day. Currently, the main application for FIPS codes is for the SAME protocol. SAME, which stands for “Specific Area Message Encoding,” is a system used to frame and classify broadcast emergency warning messages. SAME technology is used as an alert encoding system and is the only way warnings are broadcasted over the National weather networks in the United States. This allows Federal agencies, such as the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to send alerts and warnings to county-specific locations. For example, it would not be practical to send a state-wide alert for a Tornado Warning when it only pertains to a couple of counties. This technology allows signals to reach county-specific receiving points to inform the right people of inclement weather. 

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Written by Austin Proctor 
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