999, why can’t you find me?

4 min readApr 3, 2019

by Chris Sheldrick, Co-Founder & CEO at what3words

Growing up on a farm in a small village, I was all too familiar with the problem with street addresses. Neither our address nor our postcode led people to where we lived, and both covered multiple houses and buildings on a vast chunk of land. It was tricky to describe where entrances, equipment and barns were, let alone a specific spot in a field.

The fact that we had no way to describe an exact location troubles me to this day. What if a fire had broken out in a barn or if someone was caught in running machinery? How would we have told emergency services where help was needed fast enough to avoid extensive damage or fatalities?

Inadequate addressing is a day-to-day issue for many people in rural areas, but it affects everyone, everywhere. If there’s an incident in one of London’s 14 Church Roads, what guarantees that help is dispatched to the right one? How long would it take to find a car that’s gone off the M6 motorway somewhere in the 21 miles between Carlisle and Penrith? How do you locate someone who got lost hiking and the last recognisable reference point they saw was four hours ago?

When we developed what3words, it quickly became clear that the system would be extremely useful in emergency situations. Emergencies can happen anywhere, but since everywhere has a 3 word address, people can always be found when they need help, no matter where they are.

Last June, a tweet by Herts Fire Control was brought to our attention: a fire in a remote location was reported and found with a 3 word address. Amazing — what3words was being used for emergency response, in my home county no less!

Making what3words work for emergency services

This was the beginning of a six-month journey for our team. We got to grips with emergency services control rooms, visited police headquarters across the country, and worked with software providers. We ran training sessions, listened, adapted and fine-tuned our process and products to work best for emergency response.


what3words is the simplest way to talk about location. It has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address.