New app streamlines 911 calls

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is now using a new geocode application to help locate people in distress. The square highlighted in the app grid shows the Holt Fire station as location “means, engravings, daisies,” all randomly generated words.

SHALIMAR, Fla., June 4, 2021—The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office implemented a new app in May designed to boost efficiency and save lives.

According to an OCSO news release, the What3Words map application allows first responders to use GPS data broken down into three words to quickly pinpoint precise locations of 911 callers regardless of where they may be calling from.

Because addresses don’t always pinpoint precise locations, the app divides the world into 10-by-10 foot grids and assigns three simple, unique words to each grid. These words will never change and take the place of long GPS coordinates.

When someone calls 911, the app allows first responders to use those words to quickly pinpoint the precise location on the grid, whether on a remote hiking trail or in a large building.

“You type in the three words and it takes the deputy directly to the person,” said Audrey Adams, OCSO communications assistant director in an OCSO video. “You call 911 from a certain section of the beach, that 10 square feet is going to give you three words that track exactly to that specific stretch of 10 square feet.”

If a person moves into a different grid, the words change to that grid.

Since its May launch, the geocode system has been used multiple times, according to the release, including when kayakers overturned on the Shoal River May 9, and May 24 when a woman was in medical distress on Okaloosa island that prevented her from answering questions about her condition.

“We could tell she definitely had a medical emergency,” said Adams. “Had not been for those three words, we would not have been able to pinpoint her location as quickly as we were able to.”

If the woman had been able to move to another location or floor, the words would have changed according to the new location.

“In an emergency, saving time equates to saving lives,” said Michele Nicholson, OCSO public information officer.

Citizen’s safety is the driving force behind the new app.

“Anything we can do to help the public, anything we can do to help keep them safe, that’s where we’re at,” said Adams.

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