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What3words technology reduces the obstacle of locating patients for BC Emergency Health Services

In a medical emergency, identifying precisely where a patient is located is critical in order to get resources to the scene quickly.
What3words app desktop screen showing remote landscape
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However, this can be near impossible if a patient is in an area with no address, no obvious landmarks or on an unnamed stretch of road.

BC Emergency Health Services' dispatch centres are now using advanced location technology to help identify the exact locations of patients stranded in large parks, rural or remote areas of the province or in the middle of a densely populated event or crowd.​

How does it work?

What3words is a system that divides the earth into​ a grid of three-metre squares and labels each square with a unique combination of three words. The system then has the ability to pin individual smartphone locations to one of these three-metre squares. In an emergency, the three words assigned to a precise square are shared with a BCEHS call-taker or dispatcher who can relay the location to the crew responding on the ground.

One other helpful feature​​ ​of What3words is that the​ 9-1-1 caller does not have to have an app on their phone— just cell phone reception!

What does this look like in action? 

When a precise location of a patient cannot be determined:​

  1. ​​BCEHS’ call-taker or dispatcher activates What3words and sends a “find me” link to the caller’s cell phone. 
  2. The caller shares the combination of three words to the call-taker or dispatcher and enters the three words into the What3words website. 
  3. The website converts the three words into latitude/longitude coordinates and these coordinates are ​shared with the responding crews. 
​BCEHS has already used What3words twice to locate patients on Seymour Mountain in North Vancouver and in Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria.​ In both instances, What3words provided exact locations of the patients, which lead to their expedited rescues. 

“This app will be an excellent tool for our emergency medical call takers to more quickly and accurately locate patients,” says Keith Neithercut, manager of Vancouver Dispatch Operations Centre. “The app will also allow dispatch to send the location to the responding paramedics’ cell phones that will then allow the crews to locate patients faster.”

What3words is free and has now been pushed to all BCEHS cell phones.


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