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Location, location, location!

In our last blog about emerging technologies, we focused on the “What” of an emergency. Let’s shift gears and focus on another important aspect of 911 calls: the “Where.”

When I train new dispatchers, I always tell them, “If you get nothing else from a caller, get their location!” It is equally important to teach them to ask Who, What, When, Where, How, Weapons, Hazards and Injuries.

Without a dispatchable location, we cannot send field units to respond. A great deal of emphasis should be placed on location: the “Where within the where.” Before 911 systems had GIS features, dispatchers had to solely rely on the caller to provide their location. 911 mapping is a great feature, but we all know that sometimes it can’t provide precision in that location.

Down on Main Street

Street addresses aren’t always accurate for every location, or specific to park and hiking trail entrances. In rural areas, some street addresses do not exist. Describing where you are located can be complex and delay deliveries, or worse, delay emergency responses. That is where the technology of (W3W) comes in.

This system has divided the entire world into 3-meter squares and given each square a unique 3-word identifier. W3W currently translates into fifty different languages. The use of the three words creates a simple way to describe and share your exact location.

What3Words is available as a free app or widget for both Apple and Android users. It has a web-based product with easy-to-follow instructions for downloading Google and Bing extensions. Once you have the extension, you can follow the steps to enter the unique 3-word identifier into your browser and see how it takes you to that location. Inside the app or widget, you can just as easily share that location with anyone or use it for navigation in your maps. This service is all FREE.


W3W has already partnered with so many companies, including RapidSOS. Your callers’ unique 3-word location identifier can be input into the RapidSOS portal to map their exact location.

I know what you’re thinking: “But what if my caller doesn’t have W3W on their phone?” Good question!

If your 911 center allows it, you can send a text message to a caller’s phone with the W3W FindMe link: If your center does not have a dispatch cell phone, simply provide them with the link: The caller will need to allow location services and have access to a browser using data or Wi-Fi connection. W3W also has an API available and is partnering with new industries every day.

When W3W Comes in Handy

Does your community have mountains, state forests, hiking or rail trails, stadiums, skyrises, or hotels? With callers utilizing W3W, you can save valuable time in response from field units. Especially if your units have mobile devices where dispatch can then send the W3W location and instant directions come up.

I recently saw a local news channel reporting how W3W helped firefighters in locating an injured hiker. Now there is a smart center! Not only did I love to see this in practical use, but I loved seeing Dispatch on the news sharing the positives of innovative technology.

Scavenger Hunt, Anyone?

The use of W3W can be a game changer, but like any other tool in your center, you need to make it a practical part of your training to understand how it works. Anyone who is a CTO (Communications Training Officer) has struggled with teaching a new hire the geographical areas within their community.

My college-aged daughter was planning a campus-wide scavenger hunt and I introduced her to W3W. Then it hit me: Why not make dispatch trainings fun? You can turn a ride-along into a scavenger hunt using W3W.20 It’s a memorable way to send them to the highlights of your community and learn the value of What3Words.

The More We All Know

The more you can share with your communities about technology in Dispatch, the more they can take an active role in their own safety. Educating the community, police and fire departments results in a proactive approach toward emergencies. Plus, it’s fun! Speaking of, I am headed off to one of my favorite places: preach.supervision.advertised

Authored by Jennifer Law