Canadian Rescue Services know the value of the app everyone should have
what3words is an app that can pinpoint exactly where you, anywhere in the world
what3words is a terrific app you can load onto your phone to allow someone to know where you are — exactly where you are — anywhere in the world. Lying injured in the bottom of a ravine, kilometres from any road? Rescuers can pinpoint where you are. Picking your kid up at university on a sprawling campus? They can send you their exact location.
It was co-founded in 2013 in England by Chris Sheldrick and debuted in Canada in 2017. A system that, ”covers the entire world, never needs updating, and works offline” — it’s been steadily gathering users, as well as becoming an important tool for police and rescue services.
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Partnerships are coming from a wide cross-section of places. “Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Ford and Triumph drivers can navigate to any 3-word address in the world using their cars’ navigation systems, and hotels, parks and travel guides are using what3words addresses to mark accessible entrances, beauty spots and starts to hiking trails,” says the company. The 2021 Mitsu Eclipse Cross is the first car that will allow you to access what3words offline, like a smartphone; Mercedes-Benz has it available on its MBUX system, while Ford offers it on its SYNC 3 platform.
what3words maps out the entire world into three-metre squares on a grid and assigns each section with three randomly chosen words. It’s currently being used by 42 emergency communications centres in Canada, representing eight provinces and two territories. When I ask my kid to let me know he’s arrived at his destination safely, he just fires me back the three words that indicate his location. The last time, it was “cockiness.office.safes”; more often than not, one of the words will make you smile, which I’m sure is a total coincidence, but still. The simplicity of using common words will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to enter a long string of longitude and latitude numbers into a nav system.
From what3words release:
In a recent voluntary survey of 10 emergency control rooms across Canada:
- 100 per cent of those surveyed reported that using what3words cut response times when it matters most
- 70 per cent reported that what3words saved them at least one minute per call
- 40 per cent reported that it saved them 5 minutes or more per call
- 20 per cent reported that on average the technology saved their team more than 10 minutes per call
- 50 per cent commented that they regularly receive calls from those in hard-to-describe locations, such as hiking trails, lakes, campsites and remote rural areas – and all services surveyed noted that remote landscapes and a lack of landmarks made it difficult to locate callers
- 100 per cent agreed that what3words was a “reliable tool to have as part of the emergency toolkit”
- 100 per cent of those surveyed agreed it’s “a useful tool for the public to have on their phones”.
The success stories are inspiring. An injured mountain biker was rescued in Whitehorse. In August, the app enabled “ firefighters, members of the Niagara Parks Police, Niagara Regional Police and Niagara Emergency Medical Services… to rescue [a hiker] from the [Niagara] gorge.” One of the first rescues happened in Brandon, Manitoba in July 2020 when a group of hikers were located using what3words. In May in British Columbia, two canoeists who had tipped and made it to shore were in danger of hypothermia as night fell and searchers couldn’t locate them. With a dying battery on their phone, a dispatcher sent them the app, and teams were able to pinpoint where they were. Whether it’s life-or-death, or just looking for a trailhead, the app can lead you to an area the size of a living room.
The creation of what3words came about like many great inventions: necessity. Sheldrick, with a background in music, spent a decade running bands across the world. When a truck laden with their gear ended up an hour north of where the band was waiting in Rome because of a longitude number that was entered with one incorrect digit, he knew there had to be a better way.
While the applications are evident for rescue services worldwide, the company is also licencing more and more auto manufacturers. Also coming on board are logistics and e-commerce services; locations will be able to be imputed directly into orders. With the service currently available in 50 languages, Sheldrick says they need 40,000 words to cover the entire planet (yes, it works on water), and about 25,000 to cover just land. Words are selected randomly. With Canada’s two official languages, he notes they are cautious not to overlap words like “cafe” to avoid confusion. When asked what the longest word is that he’s seen so far, Sheldrick laughs and says a Finnish one with “about 14 characters.” Longer words usually appear out in the ocean.
Many of us have to come to rely on the navigational systems in our cars to provide everything from directions to road conditions and hazards. what3words allows you to carry that information, with even more exacting accuracy, anywhere you can take your phone. Download the free app, show your kids how to use it (scavenger hunts are a fun way for them to learn how to use it) and add a layer of safety to all of your outdoor activities.