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North Shore Rescue explains why calling 911 is better than any app

Last Updated Jan 23, 2021 at 4:25 pm PDT

FILE -- North Shore Rescue crews search for a missing hiker near Cypress Mountain (Eric Lai, CityNews)

While police in Ontario have embraced an app called What Three Words, North Shore Rescue doesn't see a need for it here

Mike Danks says calling 911 is the quickest, most efficient way to let rescue crews know where you are

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An app designed to help people who are lost or hurt provide their exact location to emergency crews using just three words is gaining popularity, but North Shore Rescue isn’t advocating its use.

What Three Words is an app that divides the world into grids, each assigned its own combination of three words based on GPS location data.

Police in Ontario recently highlighted how the app helped crews rescue two lost hikers. The app made headlines again several days later after leading rescuers to another hiker who got lost in below-freezing temperatures after the sun went down.

North Shore Rescue’s Team Leader Mike Danks says while the app may be useful, calling 911 remains the simplest and most effective way for first responders to identify someone’s location.

“For us in the Lower Mainland, we’re really lucky that you know RCMP or the police service can ping your phone, which gives us very accurate coordinates or the search and rescue teams have another way that we can get coordinates off a phone that don’t require an app. So there’s very little input that’s required from the person that we’re trying to locate and that’s the big difference between What Three Words and what we’re currently using,” he says.

“If we can speak to them directly that’s the best for us because we can get the coordinates off their phone and then we can also ask them what they see, what trail marker they were at last, or at least where they started on their hike. But the alternative is the ping from the cell phone provider.”


Danks goes on to point out that crews have not encountered problems getting coordinates.

“What Three words requires the user to download an app, and if they haven’t downloaded that ahead of time that can be very problematic if they have a weak battery or they have a weak cell signal, or no cell signal. Our preference is to keep it as simple as possible,” he says.

“We just don’t want to change something that’s working.”

In response to inquiries about the app, North Shore Rescue has posted on Facebook to give people a behind-the-scens look at how they track location, and why calling 911 is the quickest and most reliable way to communicate location.

Over the last few weeks our team and others have received a number of inquiries about how SAR teams get location…

Posted by North Shore Rescue on Thursday, January 21, 2021

Danks also tells NEWS 1130 that there are things people can do before venturing out that will help them locate anyone who is lost or injured successfully, such as filing a trip plan.

North Shore Rescue saw a record-breaking number of calls in 2020, and there have been five fatal accidents in the Sea to Sky backcountry since December 29.