UK Emergency Services roll out what3words in control rooms to save resources, time and lives

British Police Forces and Emergency Services around the UK have announced the initial rollout of what3words into their operations. In certain areas, callers can now give a 3 word address over the phone when they call 999 and help will be sent straight to that precise location.

If your local force is one of the seven that have integrated what3words, you can find your current 3 word address on the what3words app and give it to the call handler. The 3 word address will then be used by the control room to identify your precise location and send help exactly where it is needed.

Identifying precisely where help is needed in an emergency is critical, but can be near impossible in places with no addresses or where addresses cover large areas.

When people can’t describe where they are, they can use their phones to locate themselves by dropping a pin on a map – but it’s impossible to share a pin over a 999 call, and for that location information to be passed on to responders.

In these situations, emergency services spend valuable time and resources just trying to identify the location of the emergency. In some cases, saving these precious minutes can make the difference between life and death.

This is why Avon & Somerset Police, West Yorkshire Police, Humberside Police, and emergency services including the British Transport Police and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue, are working with what3words. The address system gives callers a simple way to say exactly where help is needed and allows 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. ///kite.chats.dine, for example, will take you to a precise spot in a field next to the River Ouse in York. People can find their current 3 word address on the free what3words app for iOS and Android, which works offline and is ideal for use in areas with unreliable data connection, or on the online map. The 3 word address format is consistent everywhere in the world and available in over 25 languages.

The system has been used to successfully by emergency services across the UK to recover a lost child, retrieve a calf stuck in the mud, and find two missing people in a country park.

Sam Sheppard, from Avon & Somerset Police, one of the first forces to enable what3words in its systems 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 of 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.”

Find out more about using what3words for your control room

Download the free what3words app so you can tell 999 exactly where you are in an emergency.
Here’s a short how-to video:

Using what3words in an emergency

Say you’re on a hike and come across a runner who’s been injured and needs help quickly. You call 999, tell them the name of the hiking trail and the general area, but you’re a few miles in and don’t know exactly where you are.

If your local force have integrated what3words, the call handler will help you find your current 3 word address. It will then be used by the control room to identify your precise location and send help exactly where it is needed.

What if my local force hasn’t officially announced it is using what3words?

You can download the app so you’re prepared. At present, only certain emergency services have officially integrated what3words. If your local service hasn’t yet, we recommend you ask them if they can accept 3 word addresses. In an emergency you should always gather as much other location information as you can in case they don’t accept 3 word addresses.

What about people who don’t know about what3words?

If a caller on the phone to 999 doesn’t have the app, many call handlers are set up to send an automated SMS with a link to the what3words online map. The caller can then see their current location and read out the corresponding 3 word address.

what3words powers

Find out how to use what3words in your business:

By asking us to get in touch you are agreeing to receive communications from us as described in our privacy policy