App to help emergency services reach riders in hard-to-find spots

An app that can pinpoint a phone to a 3m square anywhere in the world is hoped to help emergency services reach people in rural areas.

A number of emergency services are now using the “What3Words” app in a bid to improve response times.

The app splits the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares, each of which has a unique three-word address.

Superintendent Paul Burrows, of Nottinghamshire Police which is now using the app, said he hopes it will be particularly helpful in hard-to-describe locations.

“If you didn’t know where you were you might turn to your phone to try and locate yourself via a pin on a map — but imagine trying to describe your pin to someone over a 999 call,” said Superintendent Burrows.

“In these moments, emergency services are forced to waste precious time and resources just trying to locate the person in need of help.

“At best, this can be frustrating, and at worst waste crucial minutes that are the difference between life and death.

“Now, in an emergency where a location is difficult to describe, callers are able to give their three-word address from the What3Words app.”

Mr Burrows added that the force is moving away from the old style of questioning of “where have you come from? Where are you going and what can you see?” as they are time consuming and not always accurate.

“Asking for a three-word address has meant we have saved valuable time locating incidents,” he said.

“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.”

The app is free to download for iOS and Android and also works offline. It works by giving each 3m square a unique three word address — for example, “slate season metals” would take you to a specific spot in Nottingham’s city centre.

“Emergencies can happen anywhere,” said a spokesman for Nottinghamshire Police.

“In an emergency situation, identifying precisely where help is needed is critical — and this can be near-impossible if you are in an area with no address or if that address isn’t good enough to describe exactly where you are.

“These three words can then be used by the control room to identify the precise location and direct resource to exactly where it is required.”

The spokesman added not knowing a specific location can be costly to emergency services, for example if a helicopter or a number of officers are needed to search a rough area.

“The app can be particularly effective for emergencies in rural locations like farms, fields or wooded areas where it can be complex, imprecise and difficult to communicate location without any addresses or points of reference nearby,” said the spokesman.

“Even in a well-addressed town or city, the person in distress may not be familiar with their surroundings, or able to share a location with accuracy.”

For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday