AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is urging you to download a phone app it believes could save your life during an emergency.
What3Words is a free, location-based app that divides the globe into 10-foot squares, assigning each square a unique three-word sequence, like “frog.tumbler.book.”
The words can then be used by emergency responders to track a person’s precise location without an address.
“There are 57-trillion 10-foot squares around the world, and there’s a unique combination of three words for each one,” What3Words cofounder and CEO Chris Sheldrick told KXAN.
The City of Austin tweeted about the app last week.
The London-based company said What3Words is currently used by about 85% of emergency service providers in the United Kingdom and is quickly expanding across the United States.
The Austin Fire and Police Departments have been utilizing the technology since the beginning of the month, according to Lt. Kenneth Murphy with APD’s 911 emergency communications division.
Murphy said the three-word sequences are encrypted in the metadata from callers and visible on a 911 call taker’s computer.
The lieutenant said What3Words was able to be incorporated into Austin’s existing system, comes at no cost and was vetted by city technology employees.
KXAN reached out to the Los Angeles Fire Department which has been using the app for about a year.
“It’s proving remarkable in reducing response times for us,” said Tim Wuerfel with LAFD. “One of the areas that it’s really helped us with is finding hikers.”
Wuerfel added the department is now looking at how it can be applied to maritime emergencies.
As for privacy concerns, UT Austin McCombs School of Business associate professor Ashish Agarwal said reading the fine print is always helpful, but so is technology like this.
“I think that’s what is driving all this innovation in location-based services,” Agarwal said. “It’s something that is going to evolve.”