What 3 Words

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


Audrey Fraizer

What three words come to mind when relaying where you are?

Chances are if you gave the three words you selected to an emergency dispatcher, you’d remain in the same place.

What if they're not your three words? What if the three words are seemingly random and never change from the place they originated? The emergency dispatcher enters the three words, directing crews to locate you even if there’s nothing there for you to describe.

Introducing “what3words,” the brainchild of musician Chris Sheldrick who was tired of his band ending up at the wrong wedding because of bad directions. He devised a system that covers the whole world with three-meter squares and, based on an algorithm incorporating GPS coordinates, assigns a three-word sequence to each square. The system has gone worldwide.

Trevor Baldwin, Head of Service Department, Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) NHS Trust, Emergency Operation Centre (U.K.), embedded what3words into the YAS CAD system. It works in a few ways:

· A caller can find the current three-word address on the what3words app, and the three-word address is used by the control center to identify the precise location for response.

· Emergency dispatchers on the phone with someone who can’t describe their location can send the caller a text with a link to the what3words map to discover their three-word address. This can then be used by control to find out exactly where they are.

· If emergency dispatchers need to provide a location of an incident to someone else within the service, they can click on the map to bring up the associated three-word location to use this as a more precise identifier that can be easily shared.

Responders can leave their vehicles and use the what3words app on their smartphones to navigate to the specific three-word location given to them by emergency dispatch through a text message, which is particularly helpful in rural areas, at crowded outdoor events, and for multi-trail parks.

The system went live in July 2019, and Baldwin is already thinking of the many ways it can be applied to emergency medical services, fire, and police and ways to increase public awareness.

“The more people get to know about it, the easier it is for us to find them,” Baldwin said. “It’s that simple.”

Go to what3words.com/emergencyservices for more information.