Emergency services urge public to download app ahead of expected surge in 911 calls over Thanksgiving

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WATCH ABOVE: Ahead of an expected surge in 911 calls this holiday long weekend, emergency services in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada are encouraging the public to download a free app that could help pinpoint their location. As Caryn Lieberman reports, the app generates a unique code that could be both helpful and life saving – Oct 7, 2021

Every holiday and long weekend, emergency services in Toronto, and across Canada, brace for a spike in 911 calls. This Thanksgiving weekend, they are hoping a free app, what3words, could help save lives.

“What it does is it geo maps three meter squared in the entire world so every three meters squared has a unique three-word string,” explained Tracy Finn, coordinator, 911 emergency voice services for the Toronto Police Service.

“It does bodies of water, mountains, beaches, everything, so it’s a great tool,” she said.

“The three words will never be duplicated anywhere else in the world. You may see two of the words with something slightly different, but you will never see the same string duplicated anywhere worldwide,” added Finn.

The goal of the what3words app is to find, save and share precise locations easily. For emergency services, this is a game changer.

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Emergency control centres often cannot automatically detect a caller’s precise location and in an emergency, identifying precisely is critical to getting resources to a scene quickly.

“Back in the day when all we had was a hard wired phone in our house, yes, we had an address to that house, but more and more we’re wireless or we’re using Voice over IP, over the internet type services, that don’t provide location information … so with a wireless call, we do get a cell tower location and an X Y coordinate, but they’re just estimates. They’re not pinpoint locations. And sometimes they’re not accurate,” said Finn.

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In a remote area with no street address, no obvious landmarks, or on an unnamed trail, the what3words app could be both helpful and life saving.

“In areas without clearly marked addresses like the waterfront, or hiking trails within greenspaces, it can be challenging for the 911 Communications Centre to locate a caller in an emergency to dispatch responders,” said Finn, adding, “Utilizing the innovative what3words location technology has assisted and enabled communications operators to work with callers to know exactly where to dispatch resources when every second counts. We are encouraging everyone to download the free app.”

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The Toronto Police Service points out what3words is not a tracking app, the service will only receive a location when an individual chooses to provide the three words over the 911 call.

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