what3words Provides Pinpoint Accuracy to Reduce Emergency Response Time in Critical Events through Innovative Geolocation Service Built on AWS

what3words uses AWS for the infrastructure behind its innovative geolocation service, facilitating the identification of the precise location of an emergency event and improving response times.


of emergency services organisations cited tool reliability


of emergency services organisations reported reduced response times

From 12 months to days

Decreased public safety software procurement cycle

Scales quickly

to accommodate large-scale events


As a geolocation service with critical public safety applications, what3words needs to provide extremely accurate, user-friendly information that can be accessed reliably and quickly in an emergency. On average, police forces in the United Kingdom receive a 999 call every 3 seconds. The ability to identify a caller’s location quickly and accurately is important for an effective emergency response.

what3words has developed technology that saves precious seconds in locating people in need of emergency assistance and, often, saving lives. For example, a 7-year-old girl in Wales used what3words to save her mother during a life-threatening asthma attack in which she struggled to explain her location to the dispatcher. Disoriented hikers have used what3words to identify their location to emergency workers. And what3words has handled unexpected large-scale events, such as floods or wildfires, when conditions render landmarks nonidentifiable. Since the company’s inception, what3words has relied on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its underlying infrastructure, pinpointing locations to cut response times for emergency workers and using the scalability of AWS to deliver its lifesaving technology to new global markets.

Building a User-Friendly Solution to Standardise Location Services

Based in London, what3words was founded in 2013 with a mission to provide a simple global standard in how people communicate exact locations. It has divided the globe into 57 trillion 3-metre by 3-metre squares and assigned three random words to each quadrant: a what3words address. For example, ///bands.villa.swung identifies a precise 3-metre square on Primrose Hill with a panoramic view of London. Business customers use what3words to facilitate deliveries and improve the efficiency of ride-hailing, among many other use cases. Realising the potential of the application to save lives, the company began to offer its technology free to emergency services organisations in 2018.

what3words works in one of two ways, depending on whether the user has already downloaded the free what3words app. If someone who does not have the app calls with an emergency and cannot identify their location, the dispatcher sends a text message with a link to what3words’ mapsite. The link opens at the user’s current location and reveals the three words for the user to read back to the dispatcher. The dispatcher enters the words directly into their computer-aided dispatch system or digital map and sends the precise location digitally or verbally to emergency services personnel. Alternatively, a user who already has what3words downloaded can access the identifying words in advance.

Because the app works offline, it is ideal for use in areas with an unreliable data connection, such as beaches, parks, and campsites. “what3words is essentially as accurate as a GPS coordinate but is a human-friendly system that provides information that people can remember and communicate,” says Patrick Arbuthnott, what3words’ head of technology partnerships. “The idea is to make life safer, more efficient, and less frustrating for everyone.”

Scaling to Accommodate Major Events Using AWS

what3words uses AWS to provide the server coverage necessary to reduce the latency in loading or searching for a what3words address. In a 2021 survey of Emergency Service control rooms, 100 percent of respondents considered what3words to be a reliable tool, and 74 percent said that what3words cuts response times. “The what3words app has been invaluable, especially in the number of incidents during a recent heatwave,” says a what3words control room spokesperson. “We can quickly pinpoint emergency callers’ exact locations so that our resources are sent to the right place.”

Using AWS, what3words handles both planned and unexpected spikes in usage. It built a scalable application using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure and resizable compute capacity for virtually any workload. As a result, what3words scales up quickly in anticipation of popular events or major emergencies. It built its infrastructure using Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a fully managed container orchestration service that simplifies deployment, management, and scaling of containerised applications. Using Amazon ECS, what3words deploys its application quickly and confidently while benefitting from pay-as-you-go pricing as usage spikes. “One of the key benefits of using AWS is the ability to scale automatically without a huge amount of notice in a reliable way,” says Arbuthnott. “We are confident that the service will work as expected for our users.”

For example, public service personnel promote the use of the what3words app in advance for attendees of Glastonbury Festival, a 5-day performing arts festival that attracts 210,000 people to an open field in Somerset, England. With what3words, it’s simple to locate someone in the middle of the field in case of emergency or even in far more mundane situations, such as finding a friend in the crowd. “We become very useful for these particular moments,” says Jane Stephenson, what3words’ head of partner marketing. “Public safety messaging promotes the use of what3words in the local media for emergency situations. Then, we see more downloads and more usage as people use it in a more everyday way during the event to find their friends or their tent.”

The company benefits from the use of Amazon Aurora, which provides the performance and availability of commercial databases with cost effectiveness of open-source databases. And because what3words is free for emergency organisations and simple to implement, public safety organisations have dramatically cut their software procurement cycles from 12 months to days. Plus, for large-scale emergencies that require multiagency response, what3words seamlessly works alongside other software solutions, many of which are built on AWS. “The fact that the public API is built on an incredibly reliable service that scales with partners and works globally has definitely helped facilitate those integrations,” says Arbuthnott. “Obviously, the main benefit we’ve had from the use of AWS is that it supports this lifesaving work that emergency services achieve using our technology.”


“The main benefit we’ve had from the use of AWS is that it supports this lifesaving work that emergency services achieve using our technology.”

Patrick Arbuthnott
Head of Technology Partnerships,

Increasing Adoption of what3words Emergency Location Services Worldwide

Available in 54 languages as of 2023, what3words is looking to expand to additional markets globally. In the United Kingdom, the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) added what3words functionality to its emergency protocol. As the country’s standard for emergency services, the programme now suggests what3words as an additional method of efficiently and simply reporting the precise location of incidents.

AWS support for what3words is part of its larger AWS for UK Justice and Public Safety initiative, in which AWS seeks to help serve the evolving needs of emergency organisations by transforming the collection, management, analysis, and use of data. “AWS is a reliable bedrock for our growth,” says Stephenson. “We have confidence that we have a solid foundation for work that we do anywhere in the world.”

About what3words

Based in London, what3words is a global geolocation company addressing technology with a mission to build a global standard in the way people communicate precise locations. The technology gives every 3-metre by 3-metre square in the world a unique three-word identifier.

AWS Services Used

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) offers the broadest and deepest compute platform, with over 500 instances and choice of the latest processor, storage, networking, operating system, and purchase model to help you best match the needs of your workload.

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Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS)

Amazon ECS is a fully managed container orchestration service that makes it easy for you to deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications..

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Amazon Aurora

Amazon Aurora is a relational database management system (RDBMS) built for the cloud with full MySQL and PostgreSQL compatibility. Aurora gives you the performance and availability of commercial-grade databases at one-tenth the cost.

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