THIS week, emergency services up and down the country are pledging their support for the ‘ground-breaking’ technology which has been credited with saving thousands of lives across the UK. #KnowExactlyWhere, which launches today, calls for the public to download the free location app – so they’re ready to give a what3words address in the event of an emergency.
what3words has divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares. It has given each square a unique combination of three words – a what3words address. ///tortoises.swarm.announce, for example, will take you to a precise location on Ben Nevis where in February 2020 a group of hikers were rescued. The app is free to download for both iOS and Android and works offline – making it ideal for use in areas of the UK with an unreliable data connection. what3words can also be used via the online map at what3words.com. The technology is available in over 40 languages, including Welsh, and can be used anywhere in the world.
After successfully piloting with a selection of forces in 2019, what3words is now used by over 80 per cent of UK emergency services.
‘Where’s the emergency?’ is one of the first questions asked when calling 999. But saying exactly where help is needed can be challenging. Emergencies can happen anywhere, from a remote beach in Scotland, to the side of the M1, to the middle of Hyde Park. Services often can’t detect where you are automatically and dropped pins are difficult to explain over the phone. Landmark-based descriptions are prone to errors and GPS coordinates are long and difficult to communicate. At best, this is a frustrating drain on resources. At worst, it can mean the difference between life and death.
Trevor Baldwin, Yorkshire Ambulance Service’s Head of EOC Service Development, is one of the 97 UK services which use the technology for free and said many 999 callers had already used the technology to help identify their location.
He added: “Having this type of technology integrated within our Emergency Operations Centre system has changed the way we are able to deal with incidents where the location isn’t known.
Asking people questions about their location when they have little knowledge of an area takes time and responses aren’t always that accurate. Asking for a what3words address or sending an SMS so they can easily provide their three-word address, means that we can save valuable time locating incidents.
We have used it every day since it was introduced in August 2019. It has been particularly helpful when identifying the locations of road traffic collisions, but the biggest success story to date was when it was used to help us find a runner in cardiac arrest who we then managed to resuscitate. Time is precious in these circumstances.
We are keen to spread the word about the benefits of what3words, which is now being used by all the emergency services in Yorkshire, and would encourage everyone to download the app.”
Data from 15 services shows the vast spectrum of cases where what3words addresses have been used, with road traffic accidents, locating vulnerable people and breathing difficulties cited for being amongst the most common reasons. Unsurprisingly, these are all deemed ‘CAT1’ calls where services have on average seven minutes to reach the patient. The importance of immediate care is staggeringly apparent in cardiac arrest patients when every minute without treatment reduces chances of survival by 10%.
In the past year, what3words has been used thousands of times to find people needing help. Miller Wilkinson, 11, and his grandmother, Jayne, were driving in Yorkshire when a tractor hit them. The tractor crushed Jayne’s side of the car, causing the car to buckle and trap them, but quick-thinking Miller, who already had the app downloaded, was able to give the emergency services the three words for the location.
“A 999 call could be one of the worst times of your life. Having to provide additional directions when you’re under immense stress and the clock is ticking is something that we want everyone to avoid. You never know when an emergency might happen, but with what3words, you’ll always be able to say exactly where help is needed – quickly and easily.” Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of what3words adds, “We’re proud of the huge growth we’ve seen, and every what3words rescue that we hear about touches our team personally.”
Around the world, what3words is used in 124 control rooms in the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia, South Africa and Germany. As well using the app for emergencies, people are using what3words every day to meet up with friends at parks and on beaches, to share great running and hiking locations, and share match locations with their sports teams. what3words is also built into in-car sat navs including Mercedes-Benz and Ford, enabling drivers to enter any destination with just three words. Companies such as Premier Inn and Lonely Planet use what3words to help travellers find the right hotel entrance or hard-to-find restaurant, and logistics brands like AO.com and Hermes use it to deliver goods to exactly where they’re needed.