Inkwell. Breezy. Swats.
They’re three random words, but for one NSW resident trapped 20 metres down a vertical cave entrance, these words saved their life.
The experienced caver was exploring in a remote part of the Yass Valley, but with the help of an app and those three keywords, his exact location was made known to emergency responders.
The technology is called what3words, and while it’s used by millions worldwide, many Australians are still unaware of its existence.
The app has divided the entire Earth’s surface into 3x3 metre squares, and each square has its own identifier; a combination of three unique words.
It can be used for simple day-to-day activities, like meeting friends along the beach, or in life-or-death situations like the cave rescue in the Yass Valley.
Last month, a beachgoer found a possible explosive device in Newcastle and used what3words to help emergency services pinpoint her location.
On January 30, Fire and Rescue NSW used what3words to find the exact location of a woman who slipped and fell in Middle Brother National Park.
MIDDLE BROTHER | A lady is unable to walk after a slip and fall in bushland near Stoney Creek Rd. @what3words technology was used by #FRNSW Operational Comms to located the patient. A helo is standing by with FRNSW and @NSWAmbulance crews to assist the patient. pic.twitter.com/qGibPN56As
— Fire and Rescue NSW (@FRNSW) January 30, 2022
On Cronulla beach south of Sydney, locals noticed each beach entrance sign displaying the what3words address.
One resident shared photos of the signs to Facebook, explaining the meaning behind the words ‘crash.curry.clear’ and how to use the app.
“It's great if you're on a road that has no houses or major landmarks,” the person who posted the photos wrote.
“Rather than saying to emergency services "I'm on the Smith highway about 200km south of the last service station", you can say 3 unique words and be accurate with your location description.”
Facebook users were stunned and applauded the technology.
“That's a fantastic PSA, didn't know! thank you for sharing!” one viewer wrote.
“Thank you. I have a teen on her P's will be putting it on her phone also,” another said.
Pensioner, driver, cyclist, dogs all saved by using app
The app has gained traction with the public in the UK, where dozens of residents have shared their incredible rescue stories on social media.
One man went for a bike ride “quite far” from home and got a tyre puncture, but was able to give his dad a precise location to find him through the app.
A pensioner stuck in thigh-deep mud was pulled to safety after they were able to send the three-word address to emergency services.
— booksbytheboats (@booksbytheboats) February 14, 2022
— @PCBirdTweets (@pcbirdtweets) October 28, 2021
What3Words saved my bacon yesterday! After a day out on the moor, my wheel decided to break for freedom🚗 (I’m unhurt!) But I was stuck in the arse-end of nowhere. I only downloaded it yesterday morning but would’ve literally been lost without it! It definitely comes recommended! pic.twitter.com/tHAdCj0sFL
— Natalie Dyer (@natdyerwild) October 10, 2021
Let's give Durham & Bishop Auckland Blues a round of 'a paws'! As they came to the rescue of Pixie & Lola🐶 after they fell into a well😟Download the what3words app 👉 https://t.co/HSUae0LTjF 📱 If you or your dog were to come into difficulties this app would help us locate you pic.twitter.com/zds9pLU4Jh
— County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue Service (@CDDFRS) December 4, 2021
Technology increasing in popularity in Australia
Fire and Rescue NSW told Yahoo News Australia they started using what3words in November 2020.
“The quicker an accurate location is established, the sooner emergency services can be dispatched to render assistance,” Chief Superintendent Cheryl Steer said.
The Emergency+ app, developed by Australia’s emergency services, also incorporates what3words technology to help callers provide accurate location information.
“Since the integration into Emergency Plus, FRNSW has seen an increase of Triple Zero (000) callers using the technology. what3words is one of many ways that Triple Zero (000) callers can use to provide accurate locations when reporting emergencies,” Chief Supt Steer said.
A spokesperson for what3words told Yahoo News Australia that while the app isn't a replacement for any essential survival gear, it is a tool that has saved responders precious time and resources.
"In a recent voluntary survey of 19 emergency service control rooms across the UK, 74% of those surveyed reported that using what3words cut response times when it matters most, with two control rooms reporting that on average the technology saved their teams more than 10 minutes per call," the spokesperson said.
There have been more than 10 million downloads of the app, but the number of users is believed to be much higher.
"what3words has also been built into in-car sat navs including Mercedes-Benz and Ford, enabling drivers to enter any destination with just three words. Companies such as Premier Inn and Lonely Planet use what3words to help travellers find the right hotel entrance or hard-to-find restaurant, and logistics brands like AO.com and Hermes use it to deliver goods exactly where they’re needed," the spokesperson added.
App draws criticism for 'incorrect' addresses
While the app has plenty of success stories, it also drew criticism over several addresses within close range of each other that had almost identical names.
Along the River Thames in England, circle.goal.leader and circle.goal.leaders are less than 2km apart, according to the BBC.
Near Manchester and located about 50km apart are stream.rivers.abode and steam.rivers.abode.
what3words is reportedly aware of the issue, but told the BBC examples were rare.
In 2021, Mountain Rescue England and Wales received 45 'incorrect' what3word addresses, many which turned out to be in an entirely different country.
The reasons behind the errors aren't clear, however mispronunciation or spelling mistakes could play a role.
Where to find the app
It’s can be used offline, however signal may be required to make a phone call.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.