Emergency dispatchers using new location phone app

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Cellphone-based location technology should help Owen Sound police and fire dispatchers send help faster to emergencies in the city and in the many other communities they serve.

The Earth has been mapped into three-metre-by-three-metre squares by using Global Positioning System technology for the location app what3words.

After the free app is downloaded to a cellphone, the phone can translate those co-ordinates into a set of three words, which should be simpler to relay than a set of GPS numbers, to emergency dispatchers. Cellphones can record their co-ordinates, even without an Internet connection, as long as cell service is available.

Users tap the Locate Me icon in the app and the three-word address for the current location will be displayed, available to be read to emergency dispatchers, who will use it to figure out exactly where the person is.

So a Kemble Mountain Management Area identifier is “brushed.amount.doing,” a location by Chantry Island Lighthouse in Lake Huron is “shovels.thresholds.books” and a trail near the Harrison Park campground is “sustaining.lazier.glaring.”


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Every three-by-three-metre location in the world has a what3words address, which doesn’t change. In mapping the entire surface of the Earth, the app reportedly uses 40,000 English words. The locations are available in more than 40 languages.

Even people who haven’t downloaded the app, but who have cell service, can receive a text from a dispatcher which, when replied to, will share the person’s location.

Owen Sound Police Chief Craig Ambrose said a number of incidents involving other police and fire services served by dispatchers in Owen Sound, especially in rural areas, show that what3words technology would be helpful.

The city police communication centre dispatches for seven police services and 25 fire departments in Grey-Bruce and elsewhere in Ontario.

“Individuals don’t necessarily know where they are or how to get located, especially in rural areas in this area along the Bruce Trail or in the conservation areas,” Ambrose said Wednesday. “It certainly takes all the guesswork out of it.”

Response time is important, so having the precise location will allow first responders to go directly to the emergency scene, then provide medical assistance or start fighting a fire, for example.

“That can make the difference between a large amount of damage or a severe injury or a much less severe injury or much less severe fire.”

Without the app, people driving on an unfamiliar rural road who come across a grass fire will sometimes be asked by dispatchers to drive to the nearest intersection to figure out the location, Ambrose said.


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If there were a car crash and someone has to leave the scene to be able to describe where they are, that adds delay before aid can be provided to someone in distress, he said.

The app isn’t just for emergency responders.

It lets users send their co-ordinates to anyone, or to find a location on a map and navigate to it. Some car and motorcycle manufacturers have integrated the app into their onboard systems.

The app’s website says the app provides an easy way to communicate an exact location, whether spoken over the phone or into a car voice navigation system or typed into a taxi app or website checkout page.

Users who have a what3words location can open it in the app, then tap Navigate and select Google Maps or another navigation app to open the exact location and get directions.

What3words was created in 2013 in the United Kingdom and was reportedly first adopted by some emergency responders in Canada last summer. The company’s website shows it’s also involved in ride-hailing, e-commerce, logistics and more.

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