Lost? These three words are narrowing the search gap for people in need in Nashville

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Posted at 4:33 PM, Feb 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-22 21:06:29-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Our cell phones are an extension of all of us these days. It can be a comfort that a phone call for help is at our fingertips. But I found getting the right help, to the right place, can take something more.

From swift water rescues to searching collapsed buildings and finding the lost, the Urban Search & Rescue unit within the Metro Nashville Police Department trains for it all. I was lucky enough to get a quick lesson on how this team operates.

The officers train at least once a month and prepare for all sorts of scenarios. On this day — rescuing someone at the bottom of a cliff —injured and in need of help. In the past, a cell phone signal may have been their best guide.

“Their GPS location is based on a cell phone ping which could be within 1,000 meters which is a huge distance — it’s 10 football fields,” Field Training Officer Chase Mitchell said.

But now, an app called what3words, is narrowing the search.

“It’s very difficult to know where a person is, and that’s why we’ve started using the what3words program. It simplifies that and breaks the entire United States into 10-foot squares based on a three-word pattern that is unique to that location.”

Not only can it help the officers find someone, but by knowing their precise location officers can devise the fastest and safest way to reach them.

“If we take the same path to that location that they did, it’s going to be very difficult, time-consuming, and technical.”

And getting that nearly exact location often starts at the Metro Nashville Emergency Communications Center.

“If they call 911, we are going to have a physical location and a very specific dispatchable location on the water, in the woods, on the trial,” said Director Stephen Martini.

Or even on the interstate as we witnessed.

"Desk, tummy, owls" are the three words unique to a 10-foot square on I-440 where a caller to 911 had been involved in an accident. The technology eliminates the guesswork and questions that can take precious time.

“You start asking questions like what do you see around you, what do you hear, do you see signs, where were you last?”

Martini says when it came to deciding on whether to implement what3words into their system — two words came to mind — no brainer.

“There is no cost to us, no expense to the taxpayer, no expense to the department to implement this solution, there’s nothing for the caller to have to do.”

Martini says this technology has already been critical in the rescue of a boater on Percy Priest Lake.

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