An easy way to communicate location in an emergency is critical to an effective response. what3words and Advanced Mobile Location (AML) are both important tools to communicate location in an emergency. While each has its own benefits and uses, they are increasingly being used together to provide an efficient response.

What is AML?

AML is the ability for emergency services to retrieve the location of your phone when you make an emergency call, providing them with precise location information for where the call took place. AML technology is being increasingly adopted by control rooms and is highly effective at identifying a caller’s precise location, but there are several instances in which it’s helpful to use it in combination with what3words to help obtain, validate or communicate a precise location.

What is what3words?

what3words is a simple way to describe precise location. It has given each 3m square in the world a unique three word combination that will never change, a what3words address. For example ///paradise.void.winks is the exact location of a specific spot on a roadside in Forstenrieder Park, Bavaria, Germany.

what3words addresses are easier to say over the phone or radio than GPS coordinates and less prone to human error.

51.520847, -0.19552100 ←→ /// filled.count.soap

The technology is proving powerful in emergencies. More and more people are volunteering their what3words address to Emergency Services to describe exactly where they are when no other address information is available. For example, in a field, on the side of the motorway or in an unfamiliar location. Once responders receive the three words from a caller, they can route to the incident directly with the navigation app of their choice. Today, most UK emergency services use what3words to respond to incidents faster.

Why use what3words when AML provides location information?

AML technology is highly effective at identifying a caller’s precise location, but there are several instances in which it’s helpful to use it in combination with what3words, or to use what3words when there are obstacles to receiving AML data. Here are five common scenarios in which what3words is proving a valuable tool:

1. Error-free coordination

AML information is presented in the format of GPS coordinates and passing these onto responding officers can be tricky. It’s easy for mistakes to happen when sharing long strings of numbers.

Communicating one specific location with different team members can happen many times in an emergency and what3words makes it simple to do this accurately, while minimising the potential for human error. Three words are simpler to share than long strings of GPS coordinates, for both person-to-person and person-to-device communication.

Some examples include:

  • Individual officers or staff communicating locations to each other.
  • Coordinating Police, Fire, Ambulance, Air Ambulance, Search & Rescue to an exact location.
  • Coordinating ground and air services to a specific location.
  • Coordinating resources in a major incident.
tweet 'Had to describe to a colleague today how to locate a rough sleeper who lived in a tent in the woods. Not a problem through because @what3words allowed me to pinpoint his tent with just three words. Every week I'm finding new uses for this app. ^SgtG'
Tweet 'We had a busy day yesterday; from a diesel fire, to a water rescue, to releasing a casualty from machinery. #notjustfires Thanks to our partners @EastEnglandAmb @bedspolice & the caller who used @what3words Now, time for a quick cuppa tea. #TeamBedsFire #keepingbedfordshiresafe'
Jesip app using what 3 words
What 3 words in The Northern Echo news

2. No accurate AML data available

what3words can be used as a source of location information when AML data does not pull through. This is important:

a) When a service’s control room system does not have the ability to receive and process location data provided by AML.

b) During Emergency Roamer or Voice Over Internet Provider (VOIP) calls. If someone is calling from a network that isn’t their home network, or if it’s a WhatsApp or WiFi call, AML data cannot be passed currently.

c) During non-emergency calls: Calls to 101 in the UK and other non-emergency lines do not provide AML data.

3. Third party callers

If the caller is not present at the incident, the AML data would not relate to its precise location. For example, a person may have contacted someone for help, asking them to call the Emergency Services. In addition, when there is no signal, a caller in need may have to move locations to call for help. AML data in this case may not be a good indicator of an incident’s exact location.

4. Updates on location provided by someone beyond initial caller

AML provides location information at the time of an initial emergency call and can be configured to send updated messages at regular intervals, for example every 15 seconds – this would provide an accurate view of the ongoing location of the caller. In a response to an incident, location updates are also often given via non-emergency number calls, or from emergency responders on the ground – for these cases, what3words is an easy way to receive updates on precise locations during an incident to complement and validate the information being provided by AML messages.

5. Caller needs to provide an additional or alternative location

Sometimes the best location for emergency services isn’t the exact location of the caller themselves. Emergency services often need to understand the nearest access point to the emergency, or the caller may be observing the emergency from a distance, for example when reporting a fire or someone in trouble at sea. Using the what3words app, callers can locate their current position then scroll the map to choose the square that designates where the emergency is taking place or the nearest best access point. Providing the words for this additional location to the call handler allows vehicles to be directed accurately to the best possible point.

How does what3words work in an emergency?

During an emergency call, a what3words address can be received in two ways:

1. The caller opens the free what3words app or online map and reads out the what3words address of their current location. In the control room, this can be directly entered into the CAD if it’s what3words-enabled, or into the what3words online map, to identify the caller’s exact location.

2. Call handlers can send an SMS to the caller with a link to the what3words online map. Once the caller has opened the link they can read out their what3words address to the call handler.

Cambs police using what 3 words
Tweet 'another susses for @what3words tonight, which we used along with @NYPRoadcrime's #drone to locate two children lost whilst walking their dogs in a remote part of @northyorkmoors near pickering thanks to @scarrescue for transporting them home'
sign post "If Emergency Assistant is required at this location, Tutbury Weir the "what3words" reference for this location is "Lion.Delight.Workroom" when dialling 999 for emergency services then please pass these three words to control who will know you exact position.'
Smart phone using the what 3 words app

3. The caller reads out a what3words address from a nearby sign, as used in a growing number of national parks and outdoor spaces.

The future of what3words and AML

More and more control rooms are adopting AML to retrieve a precise location for each caller automatically. By using what3words in combination with AML, GPS coordinates can be presented in the format of three words and Emergency Services will have a simple way to record, share and coordinate around exact locations. This will retain location accuracy while minimising ambiguity and room for error, ultimately saving precious time and resources.

Today, what3words is used by millions of people and businesses in over 170 countries. It is used across industries including automotive, logistics, e-commerce, travel, emergency services and disaster response. Its partners include Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Domino’s Pizza, Lonely Planet, Airbnb, Cabify and many UK emergency services.

Views from key organisations

It is imperative in emergencies and urgent incidents that location information is passed swiftly and accurately to everybody involved in the response. The introduction of AML for emergency calls is a great step forward and BAPCO supports its use across all Emergency Services. However there are occasions when AML may not be available as it only works with emergency calls, or times when a simple and accurate way of updating or passing a location is required. what3words has already shown what a valuable tool it is in providing accurate locations, literally anywhere on the planet, in a simple, clear and concise way that is easy to remember, record and to communicate. The way it is being quickly adopted by emergency services across the UK and with interest from partners elsewhere too, is testament to it’s ease of use and the results it provides ” – Ian Thompson, CEO of British APCO

To learn more about using what3words in your control room, get started here .