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U.S. Census Bureau, Other Agencies Join Forces to Promote Best Practices for Usage of the Island’s Unique Address Data

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While there’s some diversity in the format of addresses in the 50 states and District of Columbia, nothing compares to the diversity found in Puerto Rico street addresses.

In some parts of Puerto Rico, it’s not uncommon to have multiple addresses with the same street name and same house number in the same ZIP Code. Some rural areas don’t even have formal addresses for housing units.

In some parts of Puerto Rico, it’s not uncommon to have multiple addresses with the same street name and same house number in the same ZIP Code.

Census 2020 Logo with Tagline

This complicates mail delivery, slows disaster recovery, frustrates visitors, and has long required the U.S. Census Bureau to rely on more expensive and labor-intensive procedures for conducting island surveys.

That’s why, in the spring of 2019, the Census Bureau joined the U.S. Postal Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to collaborate on a path forward for improved federal efforts to collect and manage Puerto Rico address data.

What Happens When Addresses Are Not Standardized?

When multiple places across Puerto Rico share the same street name, house number and ZIP Code, extra steps are needed to differentiate them: a special “urbanización,” or subdivision, code or similar geographic designation often has to be included in the address.

In more rural areas, sorting out duplication requires knowing the kilometer marker for the address, similar to mile markers. And, even more challenging, an estimated 30% of dwellings have no formal address whatsoever.

These extra fields for existing addresses could be more manageable if they were formatted consistently in data sets provided for Puerto Rico. But there is great variety in how residents, businesses and government agencies identify locations.

Residents of the island themselves might write the same address six different ways. Here are examples of the same fictional Puerto Rico addresses presented in six different ways (from Figure 6 on page 47 of the 2010 Census of Puerto Rico Assessment Report):

12-14 CALLE 34 SE
C-34SE B 12 N 14
C.34 BLOQ 12-14 SE

Among businesses and government agencies, standardization has also been elusive. Databases don’t always accommodate extra fields for necessary information and, as a result, that information is often dropped.

Working to Standardize Address Management

The new federal Puerto Rico Address Data Working Group (PRADWG) met in Puerto Rico in July to learn from key local officials, exchange best practices, understand the address situation on the ground, and develop recommendations.

The group delivered its recommendations to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the project’s sponsor. PRADWG asked FGDC to encourage federal agencies to adopt proven practices in collecting and managing Puerto Rico addresses.

That includes systematically cleaning and standardizing address data manually or through automated methods. The committee also recommended ongoing validation of addresses through the U.S. Postal Service and other field work.

In the next phase of collaboration, the group is advocating that federal agencies make their data practices, tools and procedures for managing Puerto Rico addresses public.

Solving the challenges in managing Puerto Rico addresses won’t happen overnight, and certainly not in time for the 2020 Census. Any changes to addressing will be determined and implemented by the commonwealth, and the island is still in recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

That’s why the Census Bureau plans to hand-deliver 2020 census forms to every household in Puerto Rico. At the same time, it will update each dwelling’s address and location in a standardized format, and note the physical location of the dwelling on a map.

Shelley Hedrick is a special assistant in the Census Bureau’s Communications Directorate.

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Page Last Revised - July 20, 2023
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