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What’s what3words and why is it useful? A blog from our Inspector Mark Proctor

Last modified: 18 September 2019 at 12:38pm

What3words is a simple location finder that we are using to find people or identify locations during policing operations.

Our Force Control Room began using the app when we found its simple address system was a useful tool in helping to find lost, injured or distressed people who did not know where they were.

It’s now used by many other departments in the force including operations planning teams, search advisors and at scene guards.

What3words – which is free to emergency services and members of the public – has divided the world into three-metre squares and given each one a unique three-word label.

Everywhere in the world now has an address, even a tent in the middle of a field or a ditch on the North York Moors.

For example corrosive.koala.daffodils will take you to the picnic bench on the cinder track cycle route near Ravenscar and tracking.forgotten.buzz will take you to the summit shelter on Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales.

It’s a very easy way for a member of the public who is lost to tell us their exact location. It’s one of a number of things we use to help find people in remote or non-specific locations. Asking someone to relay two, six-digit map coordinates over the phone when they’re in a state of panic or distress is difficult, but three words are much easier to say. Although it is dependent on them having a working mobile phone and they must be willing to communicate with you. When time is of the essence, if someone is injured and exposed to the elements, getting them help as fast as we can is the priority.

We’re also seeing other policing teams start to use it due to its accuracy and ease of use. For example, planners working on the UCI cycling world championships are using it to identify street furniture, and have asked the organisers to label all the kit that will be permanently in-situ for the duration of the event. This makes it easier to identify the location of any issues or incidents that may arise.

We’re also encouraging spectators to download the app so if they get lost or separated from their friends and family, they can find each other again.

Our Search Advisors are also using it to identify search boundaries in open areas, cordon points and of course, to find people.

Some incidents where what3words has helped us find people in need

Earlier this month a man walking in the Yorkshire Dales called to say he had fallen and injured his leg. He passed on his w3w location to the Force Control Room who were able to pinpoint it on our mapping system and help was with him within half an hour.
In July police received a report that a distressed man had gone missing and indications were that he may harm himself. The Force Control Room managed to speak to the man on his phone who engaged with the controller and passed on his w3w location. Officers were then able to find him and take him to safety.

Also in July, our Force Control Room received a report from a care home in a rural area that a distressed teenage boy had gone missing. The control room eventually made contact with the boy via his mobile phone. He said he did not know where he was, it was dark and he was wet and cold.

Using W3W, the boy was able to give dispatchers his three-word location, they then found it on a map and directed officers to him. He was soon taken back to warmth and safety.

I would advise anyone with a smart phone to download the app. You never know when it might come in handy. Whether you need to find your tent at a festival, or you find yourself in an emergency situation.

Be prepared, download the app now then it’s on your phone if you need it.

If you are heading to the hills, or other remote area, always

-check the weather forecast before you go
-ensure you have the right clothing and equipment for all weather conditions
-always take a map and know how to use it
-remember phone / GPS batteries can run out of power especially in cold weather

-remember weather conditions can change without warning – be prepared

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