In order to help people, we first have to find them. This is true in emergency scenarios – a family trapped by an earthquake, a collapsed music lover at a crowded concert, or a pregnant woman in difficulty in a remote area. It’s just as true when providing long-term support and development – safe drinking water for poor communities or health and vaccination records for children in unofficial settlements.

what3words is solving location issues in scenarios like these all over the world. It’s an innovative global addressing system that allows anyone to quickly communicate a precise location using a simple 3 word address. Over 400 partners including governments, businesses and humanitarian organisations in more than 170 countries are using 3 word addresses to scale their work and increase efficiency, tackling global issues head-on and improving the lives of millions.

Crowdsourcing disaster response with the UN

UN-ASIGN is the UN’s free crowd-sourcing app for natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Individuals can share photos and posts to report issues such as flooding, damaged buildings and hazardous electric lines. These populate on the UNOSAT Live map and are passed to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and other responding agencies.

3 word addresses are automatically attached to every photo and report, allowing teams on the ground to find the exact location of the problem faster and to respond more efficiently. UNOCHA is also encouraging communities and responders to include a 3 word address when tweeting from a disaster area, so information shared on social media can also be collected and linked to a precise location.

Dispatching help faster with the Philippine Red Cross

The Philippine Red Cross are using what3words to respond faster and more efficiently to disaster situations such as Super Typhoon Haima in 2016. 3 word addresses allow ground crews to easily communicate exactly where help is needed, so the Operations Center can dispatch an ambulance or search and rescue team to the precise location. The 3 word addresses of important assets such as schools, hospitals and evacuation centres are also being stored so that in future disaster situations, dispatch teams will know in advance precisely where they need to go.

“what3words has become an essential tool in helping us quickly identify disaster zones and coordinate rescue teams”

Richard Juico Gordon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.

Preventing disease outbreak with Infinitum Humanitarian Systems

When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in October 2016, over 1.4 million people were left in need of urgent help. Roads, buildings and landmarks were completely destroyed, making communicating location very difficult. IHS is a rapid response provider specialising in securing clean water supplies to prevent the spread of disease. They used 3 word addresses to deliver power and clean water to around 4000 people, to distribute over 700 cholera vaccinations and to notify the UN’s WASH Cluster of specific locations where assistance was needed.

As a longer term solution, IHS also installed a solar electrical supply and permanent water purification system at ///mythically.crested.diehard, now managed entirely by local staff.

Making childbirth safer in South Africa with Gateway Health Institute

Almost half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements with few road names or house numbers. In KwaNdengezi township, 50% of women give birth at home, and the area is so hard to navigate that emergency services are slow to reach them if something goes wrong. South African NGO, Gateway Health, have trained local ambulance drivers, and the community to discover and use 3 word addresses, giving everyone in the township an accurate home address they can use to get help in an emergency.

Gateway Health are also linking the addresses to a health database, allowing new mothers and babies to build a health record for the first time. And the organisation plans to replicate the success of project in other townships in the future.

Keeping the public safe with Festival Medical Services and Intterra

3 word addresses are making a difference across the developing world, but quickly locating people in need of help is also a major issue closer to home.

Intterra, a US geospatial technology company have integrated what3words into their emergency platform, which gives first responders real-time data to help them make immediate and appropriate decisions. The platform is used by fire services across the US, and it helped to keep 1.1 million sports fans safe during the Superbowl 50 event.

“We find 3 word addresses much easier to communicate than coordinates over the radio. The integration of 911 and tracking systems are fundamental, but they don’t solve every location issue so we’re very pleased with our direct what3words integration”.

David Blankinship, Principal at Intterra.

And at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, Festival Medical Services laid the what3words grid over a high-res satellite image of the festival ground, showing the exact positions of all on-site assets, access points and ‘roads’. It was used to coordinate responder teams, who used the what3words app to quickly navigate to any 3 word addresses where emergency assistance was required. 

what3words, a disaster-proof addressing system

3 word addresses are the ideal solution for disaster response for a number of reasons:

Words beat numbers

3 word addresses are easier to remember than coordinates or alphanumeric code, and are much quicker and easier to say. They can be rapidly disseminated amongst multiple emergency response teams with complete accuracy. This makes them superior to GPS coordinates or alpha-numeric systems which are hard to remember, difficult to communicate by phone or radio, and prone to human error.

It’s ready to go

what3words has already pre-assigned 3 word addresses to every 3m x 3m square on the planet. As such, the service can be deployed instantly, anywhere in the world. what3words is based on a grid layout, meaning aid coordinators can simply tap into the existing system to provide an accurate and reliable grid, however large the theatre of operation.

It works on almost any smartphone

The file is small enough to save on almost any mobile smart device, providing a simple and practical way to identify locations on the move. With smartphone ownership rising fast, particularly in developing countries, this makes us accessible on a device that many people will have on their person when disaster strikes.

It works offline

When communications links have been destroyed or where there is an unreliable phone signal, being able to navigate offline is invaluable. The feature is particularly useful in remote locations, where neither street addresses nor landmarks can be used to identify where help is needed.

It’s simple to integrate

what3words can be integrated with just a small piece of code that works across platforms and devices and alongside existing geo systems. This makes it simple to build into current emergency response systems, or use alongside other applications.

It speaks your language

what3words is a universal language for location. The 3 word format is always the same, and is available in 14 languages so far, including Arabic, Swahili and French. This makes it incredibly practical for agencies working in multiple global locations. Once individuals understand the system and structure they can use it to find a 3 word address anywhere in the world.