Skip to content

what3words location technology could save lives

British tech company what3words has announced the rollout of its location technology to a number of police forces and emergency services across the UK.

After successful piloting, police forces including Avon & Somerset Police, West Yorkshire Police, Humberside Police, and other services such as Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue and the British Transport Police are rolling out what3words to respond to incidents more effectively.

Using 3 word addresses gives callers a simple way to describe precisely where help is needed and allow these forces to get resources straight to the scene.

what3words has divided the globe into 3m x 3m squares and given each one a unique 3 word address. The app is free to download for both iOS and Android, or by browser, and works offline – making it ideal for use in areas with an unreliable data connection. The 3 word address format is also consistent anywhere in the world, and available in 26 languages.

Emergencies can happen anywhere, from a road collision in the middle of Hertfordshire countryside to an incident outside one of the gates at Wembley stadium. In an emergency situation, identifying precisely where help is needed is critical – and this can be near impossible if you are in an area with no address or if that address isn’t good enough to describe exactly where you are.

For example, post codes can apply to areas over 1 mile square and in London alone there are 14 Church Roads. If you didn’t know where you were you might turn to your phone to try and locate yourself via a pin on a map – but imagine trying to describe your pin to someone over a 999 call.

In these moments, emergency services are forced to waste precious time and resources just trying to locate the person in need of help. At best, this can be frustrating, and at worst waste crucial minutes that are the difference between life and death.

Now, in an emergency where a location is difficult to describe, callers are able to give their 3 word address from the what3words app. In the case of police forces, call-handlers are also able to send an SMS that contains a link to the what3words browser map site, where they can see their location and read the corresponding 3 word address.

In either instance, these three words can then be used by the control room to identify the precise location and direct resource to exactly where it is required.

The solution can be particularly effective for emergencies in rural locations like farms, beaches, coastline or moorland where it can be complex, imprecise and difficult to communicate location without any addresses or points of reference nearby. And even in a well-addressed town or city, the person in distress may not be familiar with their surroundings, or able to share a location with accuracy – for example, the description “near Wembley Stadium” will not get help emergency services to get to the right place.

what3words is now being rolled into training days so supervisors, handlers and responders are ready to use 3 word addresses as effectively as possible. Other blue light services across the country including Bedfordshire Police, Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Hertfordshire Constabulary are working alongside what3words to pilot the approach and work to begin using it as a part of their response in local areas.

Sam Sheppard, from Avon & Somerset, one of the first forces to enable the what3words technology said: “Having this type of technology integrated within our Command and Control system, has changed the way we are able to deal with incidents where the location isn’t known.

“We are moving away from the old style questioning – ‘Where have you come from?’, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What can you see?’ etc. These questions take time and aren’t always that accurate. Asking for a 3 word address or sending an SMS so they can easily provide their 3 word address, has meant we have saved valuable time locating incidents.

“The Control Room staff that have used what3words for an emergency call, have said how easy it is, and they were able to find the location a lot quicker than they previously would have.”

Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of what3words, added, “Being in need of urgent help and not being able to easily describe where you are can be very distressing for the person involved and a really difficult situation for emergency services.

“Today people nearly always have their phone on them. We need to use the tools at our disposal to improve public services and potentially save lives. Just as you may have your In Case of Emergency contacts set up on your phone, we encourage everyone to download the app to make sure they are ready to quickly share accurate location information, should the worst happen.

“It’s free, it’s simple to use, and one day it might make sure you get the help you need, when you need it.

“We are continuing to work with emergency services across the country to get what3words enabled in their control rooms and to encourage the public to understand how to find and share their 3 word address so that they can be found quickly when they need it most.”