The 1:24,000-scale topographic quadrangle was the primary product of the U.S. Geological Survey‘s (USGS) National Mapping Program from 1947-1992. This map series includes about 54,000 map sheets for the conterminous United States, and is the only uniform map series ever produced that covers this area at such a large scale.
This map series partially was revised under several programs, starting as early as 1968, but these programs were not adequate to keep the series current. Through the 1990s the emphasis of the USGS mapping program shifted away from topographic maps and toward more specialized digital data products. Topographic map revision dropped off rapidly after 1999, and stopped completely by 2004.
Since 2001, emergency-response and homeland security requirement have revived the question of whether a standard national topographic series is needed. Emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and California wildfires in 2007-08 demonstrated that familiar maps are important to first responders. Maps that have a standard scale, extent, and grids help reduce confusion and save time in emergencies.
Traditional maps are designed to allow the human brain to quickly process large amounts of information, and depend on artistic layout and design that cannot be fully automated. In spite of technical advances, creating a traditional, general-purpose topographic map is still expensive.
Although the content and layout of traditional topographic maps probably is still desirable, the preferred packaging and delivery of maps has changed. Digital image files are now desired by most users, but to be useful to the emergency-response community, these files must be easy to view and easy to print without specialized geographic information system expertise or software.