Franklin Co. Emergency Communications using Phone App for precise location of emergencies

Franklin Co. Emergency Communications using Phone App for precise location of emergencies
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - “What3Words” uses a GPS tracking system that breaks down the world into 10 feet by 10 feet virtual squares.

What3Words is an app and website developed in the UK that’s trying to make it easier to find people in emergencies or crowds. The site cut the world into 57 trillion 10 feet by 10 feet squares. Rather than using a long string of numbers to show latitude and longitude, each square translates to a unique three word combination.

According to its website, “Street addresses weren’t designed for 2021. They aren’t accurate enough to specify precise locations, such as building entrances, and don’t exist for parks and many rural areas. This makes it hard to find places and prevents people from describing exactly where help is needed in an emergency.”

A certain section of our WIBW-TV studio, for example, is identified as “hobble, degree oozing.”

In an emergency, you’d open the app -- see the three words for your location -- and tell them to the emergency dispatcher -- like Franklin County Dispatcher Charli Hall, who punches them in on her end.

“If you’re on a boat and you have an emergency in the middle of the lake, what are you going to tell them where you’re at,” she said. ”If we have a farming accident somewhere in the middle of a field somewhere where there’s really no address, that’s when what3words can really come in handy because I’m able to see on my map where exactly they are at on that field to get responders to them as quick as possible.”

She spoke about an example when she had a call from someone having an emergency on I-35. The person used the app, told them the three words on their screen, and they were able to track them to the location.

They run into mispronunciation at times, but Hall said they find ways to make sure people get the help they need.

“The way that we would handle that is just asking them for the spelling of the word. That way it eliminates any confusion and if we need to, we always repeat the location back to them so I can say, ‘okay, I’m showing you on I-35, near this’ and they can tell me if that sounds right,” said Hall. “If they really have no idea, it’s really pretty simple to just, ‘okay, give me the spelling of the three words’ and that way we can narrow down and find exactly where they’re at.”

People can access “What3words” through the web browser on their phone, but Hall said it’s more efficient and timely through the app. She hopes more people get the app so they can ensure people’s safety.

Hall believes the app can be beneficial to rural and urban counties.

“Obviously we have a mapping system however sometimes that fails, sometimes we’re just not able to get good enough cell signal to give us a good enough location so that’s when the What3Words app can come in real handy,” she said. “They give us those three words and, like I said, it narrows it down to a 3 meter square.”

Franklin County Emergency Communications Center serves Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and EMS, the Ottawa and Wellsville Police and Fire departments, Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Wildlife, and 8 rural Franklin Co. Fire Departments.

Topeka Police, Topeka Fire, Shawnee County Sheriff’s, Soldier Township Fire all do not use the app.

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