Public Safety Message: How 3-Word Phrases Help Emergency Response

By Chief Wade Watkins

thumb-three-word-phrase“Has anyone ever heard of What3Words?” This is what my Chief (my boss) asked us at our last meeting. No one from my team had heard of it. After learning about it, especially being a first responder, I’m sold. Basically, a group of people mapped out every 3-meter square, or approximately 10 square feet, on earth with a unique three-word phrase. It sounds crazy but try it!

I have been on countless calls where a hiker is hurt and stranded, or a medical emergency happens at a large event at a big venue, where it takes us time to locate the patient. Even large buildings with multiple entrances like high schools can delay first responders as we try to navigate to the emergency.

I have also been on numerous emergencies where there is no address. We are directed as best as possible by our dispatchers by landmarks or mile markers, but sometimes emergencies are difficult to locate. With the app What3Words, we would have an exact location to respond to.

In Salt Lake County, the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communication Center, who handles our 911 calls and dispatches our police and fire agencies, has been trained on the use of What3Words. You could give them the unique three-word phrase and they could communicate the location to us, or even the phrase itself for us to locate the emergency.

After the 2017 earthquake in Mexico City, the Mexican government used the What3Words system to translate GPS coordinates into three-word locations that it shared with first responders to save people. If you have some time, check it out at or in your app store on your phone.

Thanks for reading and stay safe, Riverton!

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