Three Words to Get Help Fast

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: noon May 25, 2021

Toronto residents calling 9-1-1 for help and don’t know where they are now have access to simple tool to identify their location.

An aerial view of the water with a highlighted square
The what3words app can pinpoint a location, even in the water, to help police rescue someone in need of help

Toronto Police has collaborated withwhat3words that’s a free application that divides the world into three-metre squares with each square assigned a unique three-word identifier.

This means that any location can be communicated with just three simple words instead of trying to share numeric longitude and latitude co-ordinates in an emergency.

In Toronto, a point Hanlan’s Point Beach can be found at  ///fries.trooper.withdrew, A place atop the Scarborough Bluffs at  ///eyebrows.episodes.crass and Lake Ontario, just off Sugar Beach at  ///locked.prude.grabs.

Chief James Ramer noted that Toronto Police call-takers are the first point of contact for members of the public when they need help. 

“This innovative technology helps them, help you, and can save valuable time in making sure the right resources are deployed as quickly and precisely as possible,” he said. “As the weather improves and people start exploring the city’s greenspaces again, they can be reassured that by using this service, we will be better prepared to find them quickly in an emergency.”

An aerial view of houses at a cliff with a highlighted square
The three words: eyebrows, episodes, crass can help police pinpoint a location without the help of streets

Developed in the United Kingdom, the application allows 911 call takers to send a link via text message to the caller to access the three words identifying their location. The caller then repeats the words to the call taker who determines their location and dispatches resources where necessary.

“This is another great tool to assist our communicators when a caller is in need of help and unsure of their surroundings; perhaps when they’re hiking, enjoying the city’s greenspaces or spending time out on the water,” said Communications Superintendent Hugh Ferguson. “Anywhere that doesn’t have clear street signage in Toronto can be quickly located by using the what3words application and we are excited to be utilizing this additional resource.”

Communications Manager Kerry Murray-Bates said Communications Services is always looking for ways to enhance its service to the public.

“We are pleased to be adding what3words to our tool kit,” she noted. “Toronto is largely an urban environment, but there are beautiful large greenspaces and waterfront areas where this application can be very helpful to the community.”

Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words, noted that people around the world struggle daily to communicate their location to emergency services. 

“This leads to crucial minutes and sometimes hours lost when trying to save lives,” he added. “We’re delighted to work with the Toronto Police Service, who like other emergency agencies in the world, are embracing and pioneering new technologies, like ours, to save lives.”

The browser version does require a data connection and location services must be enabled. 

The app service only requires a GPS signal and can be accessed offline as long as location services are enabled on the smartphone. It should be noted that what3words is not a tracking app - TPS will only receive your location when you choose to provide your three words over the 911 call.

TPS joins 19 emergency service agencies across Ontario who have been using what3words to better determine location and improve dispatch times.

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