what3words is a new addressing system that provides a very simple way to communicate precise locations. Every 3m square in the world has been assigned a unique 3-word identifier: a what3words address. For example ///kite.chats.dine is a point in a field in York, in the UK.
The system what3words works by converting GPS coordinates into three words - providing a widely accessible and easily communicable method of describing a location that has the accuracy of coordinates but the simplicity of three words. The system is available through a free mobile app and web map at what3words.com where 3 word addresses can be discovered, searched and navigated to and is used by thousands of businesses and organisations and millions of users worldwide.
Since 2018, what3words has been working closely with emergency services to help them make use of its technology to reduce response times, improve efficiency and save lives. It is now used by over 100 emergency services worldwide including most services across the UK and a growing number in South Africa, Australia, Germany, Austria, Canada, US and India.
Knowing exactly where an incident is taking place is vital for emergency services to be able to respond efficiently and effectively. However, when emergencies can happen anywhere, often in places not covered by an accurate street address - this can be a challenge. Where Advanced Mobile Location (AML) is not available and verbal descriptions are relied upon - members of the public often struggle to describe their locations precisely. If AML is enabled, the onward communication of an incident location can be difficult and often means compromising accuracy.
Gaining a caller’s location:
what3words can be used to locate a caller by asking them to provide the 3 words for the 3m square where they are calling from. If the caller has the free what3words app, they can discover them here otherwise services are able to make use of the what3words FindMe link: a simple web-link that can be sent via SMS and presents the caller with the 3 words for their exact location. This link is incredibly data light using only 7kb so loads very quickly in low-data coverage areas, it has also been zero-rated in South Africa by Vodacom telecommunications.
The three words given by the caller can be entered into the what3words online map (what3words.com) or typed directly into the location field of what3words enabled Computer Aided Dispatch systems* to pinpoint the exact location of the caller.
*what3words enabled CAD systems
Using what3words for response
what3words addresses can be passed incredibly easily via voice, text or through existing digital systems, minimising the room for error and ensuring teams can retain the accuracy of the original incident location. Services can equip teams with the what3words app on their personal devices and any individual or agency has free access to the what3words.com map allowing anyone to search and navigate to a what3words address easily.
Stories about how what3words has been used effectively to save time, resources and lives are evident across all services using the system. Early data from a number of enabled services in the UK, shows that nearly 1 in 10 incidents where what3words was used related to concerns for a persons welfare, including suicide attempts and missing persons. More than 1 in 3 incidents related to a road traffic collision. An ambulance service reported that more than half (61%) of all calls, where what3words was used, were in the highest response time categories (CAT 1+2). In many examples, what3words has significantly helped to reduce the need for expensive resources like helicopters and search units to be deployed.
Sam Sheppard, from Avon and Somerset Police, 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?' et cetera." These questions take time and aren't always that accurate. Asking for a three word address or sending an SMS [text message] so they can easily provide their three-word address has meant we have saved valuable time locating incidents."
What3words has also proved an effective tool in responding to the coronavirus crisis in 2020, Tony Blinkhorn, National Inter-agency liaison officer (NILO) for Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust says: ‘An important part of our response to Covid-19 is ensuring that our ambulance crews can find new hospital sites and medical facilities quickly and accurately – and this is where what3words has made life much easier for the management and planning of the transfer process.’
last updated: July 2020