Many emergency services around the UK are now using what3words as part of their operations In these 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 services 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, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Police, British Transport Police and Fire and Rescue Services in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, North Yorks, Suffolk and Humberside, are working with what3words. The address system gives callers a simple way to say exactly where help is needed and allows these services 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 35 languages.

The system has been used 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 involved in a road traffic accident at night, no one’s around to help, and you’re in between two cities. You call 999, you tell them which road you’re on, but have no way to say exactly where to the call handler.

If your local force has 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.

Which services are using what3words?

Those who have confirmed publicly they are using and accepting 3 word addresses for response are:

  • Avon & Somerset Police
  • Bedfordshire Police
  • British Transport Police
  • Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue
  • Cambridgeshire Police
  • Durham Police
  • Gwent Police
  • Hertfordshire Police
  • Humberside Police
  • Nottinghamshire Police
  • Norfolk Police
  • North Yorkshire Police
  • South Yorkshire Police
  • South Wales Police
  • Suffolk Police
  • West Yorkshire Police
  • Avon Fire & Rescue
  • Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue
  • Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue
  • Cleveland Fire & Rescue
  • Cornwall Fire & Rescue
  • Derbyshire Fire & Rescue
  • Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue
  • Dorset & Wiltshire Fire & Rescue
  • Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue
  • Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue
  • Humberside Fire & Rescue
  • Lancashire Fire & Rescue
  • Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue
  • North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue
  • Norfolk Fire & Rescue
  • Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue
  • Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue
  • Suffolk Fire & Rescue
  • South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue
  • Tyne and Wear Fire & Rescue
  • West Yorkshire FireSouth
  • Western Ambulance
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service
  • South East Coast Ambulance
  • Thames Valley Air Ambulance
  • UK Coastguard

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

You can download the app so you’re prepared. 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, in certain areas call handlers have the ability 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.