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First responders using ‘what3words’ app to help locate lost hikers

Imagine only needing three words to help find someone who may be lost.

Local emergency agencies in Southwest Virginia are doing just that through an app called ‘what3words’.

Chris Sheldrick, Mohan Ganesalingam and Jack Waley-Cohen launched what3words in 2013. Sheldrick was seeking to solve a problem — as someone who organized live music events across the globe, he kept having logistical trouble when it came to his team finding the right address.

The what3words app solves the problem of users having to remember two seven-digit or longer strands of GPS coordinates.

“A full latitute and longitute, you’re looking at about 17 numbers. Well it’s very easy to mis-transcribe 17 numbers…somebody’s trying to read of 17 numbers. Three words that don’t sound like each other is a lot easier to give to somebody,” Brian Clingenpeel with Roanoke County Fire and Rescue said.

When cell service is available, what3words interfaces with Google and Apple Maps. When offline, the app allows navigation using an in-app compass system.

The what3words developers randomly assigned a unique three-word combination to every 10-by-10-foot square on the globe. When users open the what3words app or load the website, they pinpoint their location, identify the three words assigned to that location and provide just those three words to emergency services.

he what3words platform is now available in 60 languages and is used in 193 countries.

One of the important thing for hikers to remember is to stay put once the call is made.

“Yea that’s very crucial,” Clingenpeel said. “What we really encourage you to do is stop. Stop, sit down, make the call and then stay there. I know that’s sometimes hard to do. You feel like you need to do something, you want to do something. ‘Well if I can get that much closer to the trailhead, that’s that much less they have to carry me. It makes it harder to find you if we’re already navigating to the first three words you gave us.”

Fire and rescue and emergency communications departments across Virginia are adopting the platform.

Source: WSLS News 10

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