Saving time and lives: 'Groundbreaking' new technology automatically locates 911 callers

Northwest Florida Daily News/USA TODAY NETWORK
The what3words address for Crab Island in Destin. The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Communications Unit is using the technology to locate 911 calls faster.

SHALIMAR — Emergency communication centers and responders in Okaloosa County are using “groundbreaking” new technology to locate 911 calls faster. 

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Communications Unit integrated what3words technology with its emergency response data platform RapidSOS in May, and within the first few weeks of operation the system was used multiple times to rapidly locate 911 callers in distress, according to an OCSO news release. 

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Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of what3words, said in the release that his team is “humbled” to see the technology being used to save lives. 

“It’s exciting to hear that the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has been using what3words so successfully, and we are looking forward to working with them as they embrace new technologies like ours,” Sheldrick said. 

People can use what3words technology to find their location. The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Communications Unit is using the technology to locate 911 calls faster.

The system uses a grid of 10-foot by 10-foot squares, and each square is given a unique combination of three dictionary words, called a what3words address. The system covers the entire world and is used by agencies across the globe in more than 45 languages. 

In most cases, callers’ what3words address will be sent automatically to emergency control center operators through RapidSOS, but the what3words app can be downloaded as backup. Anyone can download the app for free on IOS and Android. 

The app also works offline so people in remote areas and with poor connection in places such as state parks, beaches and lakes can access it. The technology was recently used to locate overturned kayakers on the Shoal River and save the life of a woman suffering a medical episode on Okaloosa Island, OCSO reported. 

The what3words location of a woman who suffered a medical episode on Okaloosa Island earlier this year. The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Communications Unit is using the technology to locate 911 calls faster.

The woman was unable to speak and give her location, but because the communications team had recently integrated what3words, the caller’s address was automatically sent to the team and she was quickly found. 

Audrey Adams, communications assistant director at OCSO, said in the release that what3words has made a huge difference to the operations. Prior to using the system, heavy resources such as a search-and-rescue team would have to be dispatched to find an incident site. 

“For anyone who finds themselves lost, injured or in need of help in a unfamiliar location, trying to communicate where help is needed by just using visual descriptions of what they can see, or the direction they were trying to head in, can be stressful,” Adams said. “Our emergency communication center teams can now ask for a precise what3words address, and in emergencies such as these, saving time equates to saving lives.” 

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office encourages people to download the free app and be ready to provide their what3words address should they ever find themselves in an emergency.

To find out more information, visit https://what3words.com/clip.apples.leap.