Once more in to the W3W fray …

Another day and another news item about the accuracy of the What3Words App. It has its place. It has its imperfections. But it has saved lives, and it is particularly valuable to vulnerable people.

There is a reason why the emergency services continue to carry the tech to enable them to interpret locations from it. Again, it has saved lives, often times in a housing estate rather than a mountain range. Nobody hears the cry for help that isn’t made.

The app allows the location of the user to be messaged electronically or spoken (by reading the 3 words on the screen, to the recipient / emergency services). The key downside of the app isn’t ‘the app’ per se. It’s because when the three words are spoken to the emergency services there are multiple humans and notepads and keyboards involved in ‘hearing’ the 3 words, and transcribing them ….. all the way to the rescuer. Send ‘three four pence’ becomes send ‘free four pens’ which may well geo-locate the user to a different time zone. Sending the 3 words location electronically within the app removes this human fudge factor.

Some people are just ‘allergic’ to maps and map apps and no amount of telling them otherwise, or making them out to be some sort of technical luddite, will get them to use a ‘proper’ map based app. It is this user group that, despite the aforemtioned issues with ‘voice’ and W3W, still use it.

For clients that i teach navigation to i recommend (in addition to carrying and being able to use a paper map and compass (and a mobile phone and spare charger)) the free OS Locate app. It provides you with your location in grid reference format which is useful for getting unlost, and the ‘share’ button is as useful for letting your lift-home know how far you are from the car park as it is for informing the emergency services. The app also has some outdoors advice and navigation tips. The digital compass works in case you lose yours.

Any and all of these apps and devices are only any use if your phone has power. Carry a small spare charger. If you are allergic to apps but in need of emergency services go all old school and use the phone as a phone and dial 999. Tools called SARLOC and PhoneFinder will be used by the emergency services to find you (nudge nudge …. only if your phone has power !!). 

What you think of What3Words, or what you believe (or are being paid to influence in your magazine / blog this month) is the new must have, or whether you carry 15 different gadgets on the hill doesn’t matter. What matters is learning from experience and knowing what to do if ever the shit hits your personal fan. Practise calling for ‘help’ with whatever app / tool / technique you have elected to use before you need to do so ‘for real’. Use W3W ‘non verbally’ if at all possible – just click the ‘share’ button’.

I’d probably also subscribe to the ‘text 999 service’ in case the shit hitting your personal fan renders you unable to verbally communicate (Text the word ‘register’ to 999 then follow the prompts).

PS a £1 plastic perry whistle doesn’t need a spare battery.

PPS as well as being someone who teaches outdoor activities, i also spent 11 years involved in the management of operations that used, amongst other things, cutting edge technology to locate humans. I have a reasonable understanding of the human and non-human factors involved in achieving this.

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