How a new app used by Cambridgeshire police could help save your life

Whether you've been involved in a serious road collision or you're a farmer hunting down hare courses. a new app being used by Peterborough's police force could prove the difference between life and death.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 2:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 2:52 pm
The what3words app in Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire police are one of the latest emergency services embracing what3words - a new tool to locate people which has already proved invaluable since been introduced at the force last December.

The app, which police are using for free, works by dividing the world into 3m x 3m squares. Each square has been allocated a unique three word address which means anyone can refer to their exact location simply by using three words.

Callers to the police who have the app can give them the three word address so they know where to find them, or if they do not have the app the police can text a link to the what3words website where callers can find their address in the same way.

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The what3words app in Cambridgeshire

The website works without data connection, but you must have your location services turned on.

Although it is still early days there are already clear benefits to using what3words, as proven by a two vehicle road collision in January which left two men laying in the road, including one man who was bleeding heavily from the head.

Fortunately, thanks to the new technology police were able to pinpoint the address quickly as Bullock Road in Glatton. Officers were on scene ahead of ambulance crews and were able to provide a more accurate location to the incoming paramedics.

Closer to Peterborough, in February a woman was seen stepping out in front of traffic on the A16, near the A47, heading towards Crowland. She was located by police after they received a call and used the app.

Further examples include a 14-year-old reported missing by her family in Wisbech after leaving a note saying she wanted to harm herself.

She called police an hour later to say that she was lost, alone and it was dark. Thankfully what3words helped police locate her.

Officers are even using the location service to track hare courses. The force was called in February about three males with dogs hare coursing between March and Upwell.

The caller provided a three word address and, as they followed the suspects, were providing updates of their locations.

Officers were dispatched but the coursers had left just before they arrived.

Rachael Sargeant, a supervisor in the demand hub at Cambridgeshire police, said: “We introduced the app into the police in December. We thought it would benefit us using it and at that point we could not see any negatives.

“People assume through TV programmes when they call the police we know exactly where they are. That’s not the case.

“People contacting us may not be from the area or could be reporting an accident or debris on the road.

“Even if they can’t get what3words we’re no worse off. When it works it works really well. If someone is in the middle of nowhere or off the road in the middle of a field it allows us to know exactly where they are and the best route to send officers or other agencies.

“If a person is reported missing then they subsequently get on the phone, they are distressed and want to be found but do not know where they are.

“We’ve had calls from people in the street in distress as they are lost and we have used it.

“The few examples we’ve had it’s worked well. It’s another tool we can use. The feedback so far has been good.

“The app is being preloaded into officers’ phones, so when they are dispatched to incidents they can use what3words.”

Supt Nick Lyall, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire lead for the what3words rollout, said: “Being able to identify a caller’s exact location is incredibly important. "When incidents are reported there is sometimes no easily identifiable landmark or postcode. Trying to establish exactly where these people are can result in valuable minutes being lost.

“With what3words we can quickly pinpoint where that caller is within a 3m x 3m square."This means that no matter where they are – be it in a field, on a stretch of waterway or in a tent at a festival – we can dispatch an officer to their precise location.

“It can also be beneficial in large buildings such as stadia, universities and airports which may have one postcode but multiple entry points.

“The new technology enables us to get help to where it is needed as quickly as possible. Every minute counts in an emergency so it could really help save lives.”

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is also using the app.

Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of what3words, said: "Being in need of urgent help and not being able to easily describe where you are can be very distressing for the person involved and is a really difficult situation for emergency services.

"Today people nearly always have their phone on them. We need to use the tools at our disposal to improve public services and potentially save lives. Just as you may have your In Case of Emergency contacts set up on your phone, we encourage everyone to download the app to make sure they are ready to quickly share accurate location information should the worst happen.

"It’s free, it’s simple to use and one day it might make sure you get the help you need, when you need it. We are continuing to work with emergency services across the country to get what3words enabled in their control rooms and to encourage the public to understand how to find and share their three word address so that they can be found quickly when they need it most.

"It’s been incredible to see UK police forces embrace technology to respond effectively and quickly to people in need."