North Shore Rescue is reiterating that it does not support a rescue app being promoted by North Vancouver RCMP, saying the best option for those lost or injured in the backcountry is to simply call 911.
What3Words is a proprietary phone application, popular in the U.K., that uses a grid system to help locate people who are lost or injured.
The free app divides the world into three-metre squares and assigns each with a unique combination of three random words, which allows first responders to pinpoint the exact location of an emergency.
North Vancouver RCMP has encouraged all British Columbians to download the geolocation technology. Emergency services in other parts of Canada have also encouraged the public to download the app.
On Monday, North Shore Rescue shared a social media message from January that stated it does not support the use of What3Words.
“Given the technology … readily available to SAR crews in the province and about as easily accessible as we can get, we do not see a place for them in the B.C. search-and-rescue community and do not advocate their use.”
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Instead, North Shore Rescue encourages people in need of help to call 911. Most search-and-rescue groups in B.C. can then grab your GPS coordinates by sending you a text and communicate with you directly.
“In certain cases, this technology allows us to talk people out who are just simply off-trail. We can see them live on our maps,” BJ Chute with Squamish Search and Rescue said. “We can give them real-time directions and help them get out.”
Chute said the advantage of calling 911 rather than using an app when you find yourself in trouble is that search-and-rescue crews can start looking for you right away rather than having to translate coordinates into their system.
In a statement, a company spokesperson said What3Words is “not a replacement for having the right equipment, traditional map reading skills or calling 911, but is a useful tool in the toolbox to help communicate a location.”
“In an emergency, you should always follow local advice and dial 911 first,” the spokesperson said.
“If they are struggling to locate you with other methods, they may ask you for a What3Words address. If you don’t already have the app downloaded, the handler may be able to text a URL which will display it.”
The company went on to say a recent survey of partner Canadian emergency control centres found that they all reported that What3Words “reduces response times when it matters most.”
“We are reaching out to any SAR volunteer teams whose experience doesn’t match this feedback to offer our technical support, and further training to ensure we can work together to ensure people are safe and adequately prepared.”
— With files from The Canadian Press