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Sign Standards Program Frequently Asked Questions Banner

Frequently Asked Questions

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    Q. May I hang a banner from a Corps sign?
    A. Placing banners or other messages on a Corps sign or from the posts that hold up a Corps sign is not allowed. Banners may obstruct or distract from the permanent sign and thereby dilute the intended message of the sign. Hanging banners from signs may encourage others to hang their own banners or staple posters, notices, or announcements to the posts or the sign itself.

    Corps SignPro

    Q. Must I inventory every boundary sign in SignPro and my project sign plan?
    A. No. Be sure to record one of each type of property marker used (i.e. boundary sign, witness post, wildlife management area, etc.) and describe their placement in the notes including how many of each were posted.

    Q. How do I obtain log-in information?
    A. Your District Sign Program Manager should be able to provide you a user name and password to allow you to work in SignPro. In a pinch, contact the National Sign Program Manager. If you have forgotten your password, contact either.

    Q. I am having trouble logging in. Can you help?
    A. First, be sure you have selected your district. Second, remember that the user name and password are case sensitive so be sure to use upper or lower case as appropriate. Be sure your Caps Lock is off. If you still cannot log in successfully, contact your district sign program manager. Sometimes changing the password helps.

    Q. How do I import signs from the old "Sign Manager" software?
    A. Directions for importing signs are found in the SignPro Help Menu. Once logged into the new software, find the Help drop-down menu at the upper right on your screen. Go to show inventory help, and then click import sign manager files. Follow the directions carefully.

    Importing signs from Sign Manager to SignPro is like scanning a document. Expect to go back through your imported inventory to clean up the data. SignPro stores much more information about each sign than did the old software. A small red icon will appear next to signs with significant omissions in that data.

    Q. Why are some data fields "locked"?
    A. Corps SignPro was designed to be integrated with the Sign Standards Manual. When you select a sign specification code (e.g. HD0-02, HDO-05, ALU-02, FSM-07, etc.) the proper information according to the sign standards will automatically be loaded for that sign. Those standards will set items such as the minimum letter size, number of posts, and panel information.

    Q. The panel quantity is locked at 1. How do I change it?
    A. The panel quantity block on the sign overview page refers to whether the individual sign requires a single or double panel. It is set by the specification code and cannot be changed. For most sign types a new record is needed for each individual sign. For those signs such as boundary signs and campground number posts where you may want to make only one entry in SignPro for a large quantity of similar signs you will have to enter the number of signs in the Notes tab. Enter other information such as how or where they are posted also in the Notes tab.

    Directional Signs

    Q. Can we place our agency logo on directional signs?
    A. Yes, the proper Corps Communication Mark (Signature and Castle) should be placed on Approach Directional signs (APRDIR) according to the revised Sign Standards. APRDIR are those "wayfinding" signs posted off Corps property. The Corps Communication Mark should never appear on Project Directional signs located within the boundaries of a Corps project.

    Q. Should I add a decal with the Corps logo to an existing sign?
    A. No, you should never add a decal with a Corps Communication Mark to an existing APRDIR. The sign will then be non-compliant in as it will not be correctly formatted. Decals will shortly begin to peel and generally detract from the appearance of the sign.

    Q. Must Approach Directional signs be immediately replaced to include the Corps logo?
    A. No, you need not replace serviceable APRDIR signs. When replacing existing signs or placing signs in new locations they must include the Mark and Signature.

    Q. Can we work with the state highway department to erect directional signs on a public right-of-way?
    A. Yes, you are encouraged to do so. State highway departments have sign standards that in most cases must be followed by Corps projects to get directional signs erected on highway rights-of-way. Standards for guide signs vary significantly from state to state. It is important to follow proper procedures when working with the local highway authorities.

    Q. Do some highway departments require that you allow them to fabricate the signs to meet their specifications and also to erect the signs once they are made?
    A. Yes, some highway departments will make and erect the signs. These signs in some cases must be purchased by the Corps projects.

    Q. What is the procedure?
    A. Since every state has different ways of doing business Corps projects should do the following:

    • Determine who has jurisdiction over the road in question - is it a town road, a county highway, or a state highway? If it is a state highway, in what highway district is it located?
    • Contact the appropriate state or local official to determine if the Corps can place APRDIR according to our USACE sign standards.
    • If the state requires we pay for a sign that they will place, work with your district Contracting and Office of Counsel to determine what requirements you must follow.
    • Provide the fabricating agency with the compliant Corps Communication Mark. Work with them to ensure it is correctly formatted and proportioned. Often the sign shop can incorporate a PDF or other digital file into the sign.
    • Document in your project sign plan as a "non-Corps" sign.


    Q. Can we put another agency logo on our signs along with ours?
    A. The Corps Identification Sign with Partner Logo(s) (PTNR sign) provides a way to recognize other agencies or organizations that share in the on-going operation and management of facilities on Corps fee owned land. A PTNR identification sign may be used if a project has a visitor center or other facility that is being managed by two agencies. For example, the Big Bend Visitor Center is a joint partnership between the Corps and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, a standard identification sign using both agency logos may be used. The format for this new ID sign has been created for just this situation and may use one or up to three other logos. For more information, consult the Sign Standards Manual, pages 5-24 through 5-26.

    It may be appropriate to show more than one agency logo on interpretive signs to support the interpretive theme of the panel.

    Other than partner identification and interpretive signs the Corps will not participate in shared agency signs. Approach directional signs will show only the Corps Communication Mark, no other agency logos will be used on this sign type on signs installed and maintained by the Corps of Engineers.


    Q. What are the phase-in dates for Corps signs?
    A. The phase-in date for replacement of recreation and natural resources signs remains January 1, 1998, as specified on page 1.11 of the Sign Standards Manual.

    Phase-in dates have been established for two categories of lock, dam, and waterway signs. For safety-critical signs, the phase-in date in January 1, 1998. For all other lock, dam, and waterway signs, the phase-in date is January 1, 2003.

    Q. What is the difference between a sign and a poster?
    A. The requirements of the National Sign Standards Program do not apply to posters. Posters are useful tools to tell visitors and employees about upcoming events and temporary campaigns and programs. But there have been cases where a project has tried to avoid the sign standards by calling something a poster that is really a sign.

    Here are some criteria to identify a poster. If the thing you intend to put up cannot meet most of these criteria, then it is probably a sign.

    • It is temporary.
    • You are going to mount it on a bulletin board or kiosk or directly on a wall.
    • It is made of nondurable material.
    • It concerns a topical subject such as an imminent event or a temporary campaign.
    • There is no sign in the manual that covers the message being conveyed.


    Q. Our project received a request to place a sign in memory of some individual. How should we respond?
    A. The Corps of Engineers strongly discourages placing memorial signs or other objects at Corps facilities. While we understand that grieving relatives may wish to remember their departed loved ones with a sign, we would urge other ways be used for memorials such as planting a tree, purchasing a bench, or providing other aesthetically pleasing and useful items that are in the projects "wish list". It is the policy of the Corps of Engineers to limit the visual clutter of signs and remove distractions to drivers and boat operators. Memorial signs can be distracting.

    Q. When should the Viewing Distance Chart on page 2.6 be used?
    A. The Viewing Distance Chart must always be used when determining the size of a sign.

    Q. Do you have to use the legends shown in the Sign Standards Manual on boundary signs?
    A. No. You can use any legend on a boundary sign. However, the sign should be formatted according to boundary sign specifications.

    Q. When do we use "Keep Off" as opposed to "Keep Out" on a sign?
    A. If no barrier is there to physically restrain - use "Keep Off." If a barrier is there to physically restrain, such as a fence, use "Keep Out."

    Q. Do we have to use both "Road Ends in Water" signs and "Road Ends in Water 000 Ft." signs? If not, does it create liability if we use one in some places and both in other places?
    A. No. You can use one or the other or both of these signs. Do a sign plan, and document why you made the decision to use the sign or signs that you did. You must always place a sign if there is a need for one.

    Q. Are we allowed to use the Caution, Warning, and Danger legends on signs from the Industrial Safety Catalog supplied by UNICOR?
    A. Yes. All industrial safety sign legends found in the UNICOR catalog can be used. However, the signs must be fabricated in the Corps format.

    Q. Do I need a waiver to translate approved caution, warning, or danger signs to another language?
    A. Approval of the district Sign Program Manager is enough. You do not need approval from Corps Headquarters to translate an approved safety legend into a non-English language. You should document the need for the non-English sign and that the approved safety legend was translated accurately by an expert in that language. In addition to the guidance on page 2.2 of the Sign Standards Manual, see also the NRM Gateway Note the panel size of the translated sign will likely be different from the manual because of a different legend length.

    Q. What if I want to create a new symbol to reflect what some of our safety signs say?
    A. You cannot create your own symbol, nor can symbols be used on caution, warning, or danger signs. You must submit a request for a new symbol through your District and Division Sign Program Managers (SPM) to the National SPM. You should submit a design that is either used by another agency or one that has been thoroughly researched and clearly communicates the right message. The National SPM and the National Sign Advisory Work Group will review the request and render a decision.

    Q. Should we have "Emergency, First Aid" signs?
    A. We should not place signs advertising first aid. It places the Corps in a position of accepting liability if such aid is not available.

    Q. Should we use decimals or fractions for distances on directional signs?
    A. The USACE sign manual does not have guidelines for use of numbers on signs. Most examples of directional signs shown in the Manual have no distances, however there are two on page 2-6 that show distances in decimals, e.g. 1.5 miles and .5 miles.

    The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devises (MUTCD) does state for Guide SignsFreeways and Expressways: "Fractions of a mile, rather than decimals, should be displayed in all cases." Reference:

    The Corps of Engineers adopts the MUTCD standards for traffic signs, with the notable exceptions of directional signs, parking/no parking signs, and recreation symbols. In the absence of USACE guidelines, projects should be advised that fractions are preferred by the MUTCD, but decimals may be used if requested and the district sign program manager approves.


    Q. Do I need to go through the chain of command when asking a question about signs?
    A. Yes, for several reasons. The Sign Program Manager chain of command is found on page 1.11 of the Sign Standards Manual. Following the chain of command assures that all who must know the information receive it. This is particularly important now that we have other functional areas that will be involved in the sign program on an increasing basis - such as waterways. Another reason is that HQUSACE receives so many calls each day that it is almost impossible to answer them all. Often, a question can be answered at a level prior to HQUSACE level.

    Q. Do restricted sign legends have to be approved by HQUSACE?
    A. No. The wording on restricted signs is up to the district Sign Program Manager. They do not have to be approved by HQUSACE. Because the color of restricted signs is the same as danger signs, HQUSACE suggests that you have your District Office of Counsel review all restricted signs.

    Q. Do restricted signs have to be approved by division?
    A. No. There is no policy that says division has to approve any signs.

    Q. How should we handle the "chain-of-command" question with waterways and any other signs that apply to other functional areas within the Corps?
    A. Policy questions, requests for waivers, and official sign correspondence should always come up through the Sign Program Manager chain-of-command. CECW-ON will assure these items will be coordinated with all applicable offices at HQUSACE level.

    Waterways sign plans should be reviewed and approved by the District Operations Chief since they are ultimately responsible for the sign program. However, this does not mean Natural Resource Management team members should prepare waterways sign plans. Those team members responsible for waterways signs know the waterways subject best and should prepare the sign plan.

    Materials and Fabrication

    Q. Can I change the size of a sign?
    A. Yes, however format and proportions must remain the same. The viewing distance chart must always be consulted when working with sizes on signs. If you select a sign that is a different size from what is found in the Sign Standards Manual, the sign becomes a custom sign, which allows the fabricator to possibly charge more.

    Q. Do I have to follow the Corps Sign Standard Manual verbatim?
    A. Yes, when the question is about viewing distances, format (color, text type, etc.), and proportion. The other exception is Caution, Warning and Danger sign legends, which must be used verbatim.

    With that said, keep the following in mind. The manual provides guidance. All other signs can be changed as long as you follow correct viewing distances, proportions, and format. It would be impossible to have examples of every sign a project might need.

    Q. Can I use aluminum instead of wood for a sign?
    A. Yes. You can use any substrate for any other substrate. Make sure you specify which you are using on your order.

    Q. Must all redwood signs be fabricated of clear heart redwood?
    A. No. Clear heart redwood is no longer specified for use in sign fabrication because it can only be obtained from old growth trees. Construction heart redwood lumber is sawn from second and third growth trees and is acceptable for Corps signs. However, redwood is no longer a recommended substrate material under the National Sign Standards Program. This change will be reflected in the next revision of the sign manual. High Density Overlay (HDO) material and western red cedar are good substitutes for redwood if routed wood signs are desired. (See National Sign Standards Policy Letter 99-01.)

    Q. What do we do about the lack of a source for Benjamin Moore Corps brown stain?
    A. Take a swatch of the Corps Brown reflective sheeting, or the color specification in the Sign Standards Manual on page 4.11 to a paint store for matching. Unfortunately, due to the reflective nature of Corps Brown sheeting, computerized matching cannot be used to match this color. For more information on matching Corps Brown, see the Sign Program Good Enough To Share

    Other Questions

    Q. I represent a private manufacturer, and we would like to sell signs to the Corps of Engineers. Who buys your signs?
    A. The Corps is a decentralized organization with over 30 districts across the country. Each district does its own purchasing. To sell signs to a project (such as a Corps-owned dam and reservoir or a lock and dam system on a river), you deal directly with that district's contracting office or, on smaller orders, with the project itself.

    A good starting point for learning how to sell to the Corps would be to visit the pertinent Website maintained by our headquarters in Washington, D.C. Here is the address:

    Up until recently, all Corps districts without the capability to make their own signs were required by law to buy their signs from Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (brand name UNICOR). A recent law lessened the requirement for Department of Defense agencies such as the Corps of Engineers to buy from UNICOR. However, many Corps facilities still rely on UNICOR for their signs. Again, you must contact individual Corps districts to find out how they are implementing current Federal purchasing rules.

    Each Corps district also has a Sign Program Manager, independent of the contracting office, who is charged with ensuring compliance with the sign standards within that district.

    The National Sign Standards Program mandates certain sign formats and provides guidance on the overall appearance of sign installations. Formats are simple, clear, and relatively unadorned, and installation guidelines allow only the most utilitarian and unobtrusive methods - generally one or two brown wooden posts set directly into the ground with no ornamental base or frame. Here is a picture of a typical standard Corps identification sign. The posts are wooden and the panel is ordinary retroreflective vinyl sheeting on a substrate of plywood or aluminum.

    Similarly, interior architectural signage is simple and prescribed by thr standards program. Individual districts and projects are not allowed to change the prescribed format.

     Example of a sign To sum up, if a district determines that ordering from a private vendor (rather than from UNICOR) is appropriate, then the contract would generally involve no more than the manufacture of predesigned sign panels, which - for exterior signage - would consist of vinyl sheeting on an aluminum or plywood substrate.

    Finally, you should know that the Corps of Engineers sign program applies only to Corps civil works facilities such as locks and dams, hydropower dams, individual Corps offices (such as district offices), and the recreation areas associated with our projects. The Corps does not control the signage on military bases.

    Q. Can symbols or graphics be used on Caution, Warning, and Danger signs?
    A. Absolutely not. No graphics can be used on any signs other than approved recreation symbols used in proper context, and on interpretive signs.

    Q. Please explain the "discretionary function defense" and how it affects the Corps?
    A. The Discretionary Function exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act states that if an agency has based a National Standard on social or economic policy reasons, the courts have no authority to pre-suppose what an agency should do under its standard.

    In other words, if the Corps has a National Standard in place, and is using it, the courts cannot dictate what the Corps puts on its signs or where these signs should be located. However, if the Corps does not follow its own standards, the Corps is liable.

    Q. Why wasn't a sign developed for life jugs?
    A. Life jugs are not Coast Guard approved. Therefore, we will not provide an official sign or guidance concerning these devices. By providing a sign we are in effect sanctioning the use of the jugs and could be held liable for any resulting court action for the use of unapproved lifesaving devices.

    Q. Why is there a difference between the colors used on Corps Parking and No Parking signs (green or red) and blue used in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)? Isn't there a national standard for colors used?
    A. The Corps sees these parking signs as regulatory. The color green implies "it is OK," the color red implies "it is not OK." The MUTCD uses the color blue because they see the signs as information signs. There is no national standard. The 2006 revision of the Sign Standards Manual now includes both a blue option and a red or green option.

    Q. Are military entities required to follow the Corps Sign Standards Manual, EP 310-1-6a and 6b?
    A. No. The military does not have to follow the Civil Works Corps Sign Standards Manual.


    Q. Do we have to order all signs from UNICOR?
    A. No. Federal law has been changed regarding purchases from Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR). Your local contracting officer must now follow certain procedures to determine where you buy signs; it may or not be from UNICOR. To start the process, the contracting officer must decide whether UNICOR can meet our needs in terms of price, quality, and time of delivery. For more information, go to News/Current Issues. This site contains additional information (July 2003):

    Q. Do we have to consider UNICOR for flexible post signs?
    A. No. However, whoever you use for flexible post signs must fabricate them according to Corps specifications.

    Weapons Policy Signs

    Q. In light of the recent legislation allowing weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges, what is the appropriate "No Weapons" sign to educate the public at our projects?
    A. The Corps was not included in this change in the law and we need to keep signs simple. PS-001 is the sign to use as it is simple, clear and to the point. Do not use a custom or notice sign in an attempt to explain legislation. Park rangers should understand the Corps policy on this issue and be able to discuss it with visitors who ask for additional information.

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