Emergency responders are using 3-word geocoded addresses to save lives

March 20, 2019


SOURCE Venture Beat

When a vehicle carrying a mother and young child was run off a road in a rural area of South West England, the Avon and Somerset Police department turned to a rather novel means of finding the panic-stricken caller. Rather than dispatching a helicopter or platoon of search vehicles to find the panic-stricken victim — who was unable to describe her exact whereabouts — the call-handler used a quirky geocoding system that can convey the exact position of any location on Earth using just three words.

The system was developed by What3words, which has divided the planet into 57 trillion 3-meter-by-3-meter squares, assigning each square a random three-word address. Though the London-based company has its own consumer mobile app, its main success has come in the form of partnerships and integrations: It licenses its platform to Mongolia’s national postal delivery service in lieu of a reliable local addressing system, and logistics giant Aramex adopted What3words for its global e-commerce fulfillment operations after investing in the startup back in 2016.

Elsewhere, What3words has racked up an impressive roster of partnerships with the likes of TomTom, Daimler, and Ford all embracing the nifty addressing system, which can be used to help convey exact locations that are a little off the beaten track. Want to tell all your buddies about the best place to camp in the Lake District? Why not tell them to head along to wolves.internet.charts.

Today, around 80 percent of calls to emergency telephone numbers come from mobile phones, which is why What3words is stepping up its efforts to help fire and police departments through official software integrations, after a growing number of emergency call-handlers started using What3words to help find callers in despair.

Emergency Situations


For example, a sexual assault victim who was being held hostage was talked through the What3words process so they could convey their location to the authorities using three words. “The three word address was passed to dispatchers, resulting in the recovery of the victim and capture of the offender,” noted Paul Redshaw, a command center supervisor for Humberside Police in the U.K.

Initially, call-handlers wishing to use What3words would have to guide the caller through the process of using the platform. Getting them to download the What3words app from Google Play or the App Store was not really practical, so instead they would ask them to enter “map.what3words.com” into their mobile browser, and then have them read out the three words for their location — such as unique.harshest.booth.

But that was still likely too much friction for many emergency scenarios, particularly where someone may be stressed or unable to think clearly. And that is why U.K. authorities requested an update to the Sopra Steria control room software that is used by 60 percent of police forces across the U.K., which makes it easy for call-handlers to send an SMS that contains a link to the What3words browser map site — so it’s just a one-tap process.

This kind of technology may fundamentally change how the emergency services interact with callers, while reducing the time it takes to identify a location for victims of crimes or accidents.

“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,” said Sam Sheppard, command and control systems manager at Avon and Somerset Constabulary. “We are moving away from the old style questioning – ‘Where have you come from?,’ ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What can you see?’, and so on. These questions take time and aren’t always that accurate.”

Read the full article on VentureBeat.

Find more information on What3Words here.