Bulletin / Location, Location, Location!...

Location, Location, Location!

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol, Training Director, FBCI, FEPS

In this week's bulletin, Charlie talks about why determining an accurate location during an emergency is important, and how you can incorporate this into your emergency plan.

When responding to an incident it’s critically important to understand the location of the incident, so that internal support and the emergency services know exactly where to go. During an incident, every second counts! Vital support can be delayed if it’s sent to the wrong place. The chances of this happening are increased when the person at the site of the incident is under a great deal of stress, making it more difficult for them to provide a precise location (see article here). At the moment, a clear methodology of describing the location of an incident hasn’t been created.

When I was in the army, we used grid references for everything, such as sending your location, giving the helicopter a pickup point, the location of the enemy, or calling in artillery fire. You got very proficient at using grid references as you were reading them day in and day out. If I were to give a map reference now, even if I could find a map I would struggle to get the grid references right. I remember it was ‘along the corridor and up the stairs’, but I still can’t quite remember what that means. When communicating grid references during operations, you had to make sure you double-checked and that they were received correctly. This could be a matter of life or death, sending the wrong pickup point for your helicopter extraction back to camp would end badly for you. After a week or two in the field, you made sure that you got that right!

With modern technology, there are plenty of ways of determining your location. Your phone can tell you the latitude and longitude grid reference, but you will need a navigation app for this and within WhatsApp, you can send your exact location. The difficulty of these systems is if you are sending numbers, such as the grid reference there is a high chance you could send an incorrect number or the person receiving them could read them wrong. If you are using an app like WhatsApp you need to make sure that the person receiving the information is a saved contact. Often in emergencies, locations are sent by description, such as “I am by the church on North Street". The church to you seems obvious and it is a local landmark but this means nothing to the person 100 miles away receiving the message. If your emergency is at sea a map and grids won’t work and descriptions of your location may be very vague.“I am off the north end of the Isle of Coll” - this could cover a very large area and you could be very difficult to find especially if you are in a small boat or a kayak.

What is needed is a system that covers the globe, which would make it easier to describe and narrows down your area to a three metre square making your location super accurate. This system now exists in the form of ‘What3words’. The system was conceived by Chris Sheldrick who was always struggling to get bands and their equipment to music venues and turn up at the wrong door as the directions given to him by the venue were inadequate. The system developed by What3words has divided the world into three metre squares, and assigned each square three words to describe them, for example, “flats-jumbo-wipe”. To use the app you have to first determine your location on the What3words app and then send it to someone who also has the app. The advantage is in sending the message they are using three words rather than a grid reference, there is less chance of taking the words down wrong and giving someone the incorrect location. Within your emergency plan, you should determine the location of key sites in advance, therefore reducing the time wasted using the app to determine your location during an emergency. This would be incredibly helpful for emergency services who need to find you on a large site, it will save them from asking for directions and a map.

The app isn’t without criticism as it’s a closed standard, and you have to use the company’s app, but some emergency services are starting to use its in-car alert systems. I was reminded of the system as the family watched “Love Island”, and the app was being heavily advertised.

This system may not be the complete answer to getting help to a location quickly, but I think it is worth considering. It seems to me that it drastically reduces the chances of someone under stress sending or receiving the wrong numbers and sending the cavalry to the wrong location. Give it a try and see what you think.

Signing off from ///crate.dubbing.slopes.

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