The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is adopting what3words as a tool to help locate callers faster in an emergency, taking out the “search” from search and rescue.
What3words divided the world into 10-foot squares and gave each square a unique combination of three random words, which assists first responders in locating a call, according to Margaret Stewart, spokesperson for the LAFD.
Being able to locate a caller during an emergency is essential and the faster the location is confirmed, the faster help can be dispatched, Stewart said.
However, finding a precise location can be near impossible if the caller is in a remote area with no address, no obvious landmarks, or on an unnamed stretch of road or trail.
LAFD Battalion Chief Scott LaRue said, “what3words has been a game-changer for us. It has literally taken the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue.”
The department has built what3words into its Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Dispatchers at Metropolitan Fire Communications (MFC) are able to quickly create an incident precisely at the caller’s location despite no associated address.
The location can then be shared with responding resources on their mobile data computer maps, which means helicopters and ground resources are able to quickly navigate to a caller’s exact location, according to Stewart.
If a caller’s location information is not available, the dispatcher is able to send the caller a text message with a link. When clicked, a webpage is opened showing the caller’s current what3words location.
Each what3words address is unique to the 10-foot square anywhere in the world.
For example, “///hammer.silly.storms” will take you to the entrance of the Griffith Observatory, while “///result.gear.snaps” will take you to the base of the H in the Hollywood sign.
During a six-month pilot program, dispatchers at MFC used the system around 300 times for a variety of emergency calls across the city.
“For instance, a dispatcher received a cell phone call from a lost hiker. The dispatcher located the person in distress on a map and simply clicked on the map to retrieve the three words. The words were entered into the system and emergency crews quickly located the individual on a remote hiking trail,” Stewart said.
In February, a small airplane crashed into a storage container on Terminal Island. An individual who called 9-1-1 could not properly describe the area to MFC dispatchers. The department used what3words to identify the exact location.
In April, a couple was hiking with their 8-month-old and became stuck after venturing off the trail and slipping into a ravine. The only location information the caller was able to share was that they were looking for a hidden waterfall.
The dispatcher sent a text message with the FindMe link and was able to retrieve their what3words address and then coordinate the needed response.
Interested individuals can download the free app for iOS and Android or use the online map to find and share their precise location.
The app even works offline, making it ideal for use in remote areas that might have a poor internet connection, such as state parks and lakes that are enjoyed by hikers, tourists and lovers of the great outdoors alike where accidents can occur, according to Stewart.
What3words has proven an important tool in allowing emergency services to locate callers and incidents in thousands of instances across the globe.
The length of time between a call for help and the arrival of emergency medical services in the U.S. is about eight minutes, however, it rose to 14 minutes in rural areas, with roughly 10 percent of people waiting nearly 30 minutes, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
But when it comes to fires, with many happening in regions filled with hills and canyons, it could take longer.
The goal of what3words is to cut down that response time, potentially saving lives.
“I am proud that we are the first major Metropolitan Fire Department in the nation to use this cutting-edge technology,” said LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas in a statement. “Since the pilot began, we have responded to nearly 300 incidents using the platform. When seconds matter, this innovative tool has proven to be a beneficial resource for firefighting and rescue operations.”