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Could an App Save Your Life?

Posted on October 11, 2019

Emergency services are encouraging people, especially those who enjoy outdoor activities such as rambling or mountaineering, to download an app which has the potential to save their lives should they get in to difficulty.

The app in question is called What3words. And it simply assigns 3 words to every location in the world from a bank of around 40,000. It does this by dividing the world into 57 trillion 3 x 3 metre squares. With these 3 words then effectively becoming the location’s unique address.

How Can The App Help?

In the UK, the app is at its most useful when people need to access locations without a postcode, as is often the case in search and rescue situations. Instead of having to attempt to give vague descriptions of your surroundings or what you have walked past, you can give the emergency services the three unique words of the 3 x 3 metre square you are currently occupying.

Already, there are a number of success stories of people having been rescued after using the app. After a group of friends got lost walking in Hamsterley Forest in County Durham, they were told to download the app by the emergency services’ call handler during a 999 call. Upon informing the police of their 3 words, they were quickly found by the rescue party. Rather than combing an area in the usual manner, the police were able to head straight for a specific location, drastically cutting down the time it would normally take to perform a search.

It has also been backed by Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. Crew manager Lee Wilkes stated, “It cuts out all ambiguity about where we need to be. Instead of saying ‘meet at the gate and then get directed from there,’ we can be absolutely specific about where our crew needs to get to.”

From just those two examples, you can see how powerful having this accurate location data can be. When time is a factor, having the ability to head for a precise spot can make all the difference.

Does It Have Other Uses?

The apps usefulness isn’t just limited to rescue services either. As the system works across the entire world, Lonely Planet use it in their guide books, in countries where the address system could be difficult for tourists. They have found that using the What3words data gives their readers a better chance to find the places of interest they are looking for.

There are some other applications of the app which are more trivial than those previously mentioned, but nevertheless are still useful. For example, even with mobile phones it can be difficult to find friends at a concert, festival or parks; but having a 3 x 3 metre square to aim for makes this process much easier.

How Could this be Used in the Health & Safety Industry?

This app could have a part to play in making reporting and auditing more accurate, especially in large warehouses or yards. There are instances where it would be much easier to communicate the location of a potential hazard or breach with a three word code.

Hopefully the app will never be needed to save you life, but there are many ways in which it could make your day to day life easier.

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