Injured at Glastonbury? Three little words will help medics find you

New app What3Words, also used by emergency teams in a cholera outbreak in Tanzania, can help medical services locate ill festivalgoers amid a sea of tents

What3Words, which provides addressing services that work in the most desolate corners of the earth where people live in the most basic conditions, also covers the Glastonbury Festival.

Powered by article titled “Injured at Glastonbury? Three little words will help medics find you” was written by SA Mathieson, for on Tuesday 21st June 2016 10.26 UTC

The Glastonbury festival magics up a small, temporary city in rural Somerset – a city with its own health service, staffed largely by NHS professionals. Until last year, they had no precise way to locate people in emergencies, instead relying on a large-scale grid and their volunteers’ knowledge of the site.

Festival Medical Services (FMS) is a charity set up in 1979 to provide healthcare for the Glastonbury festival. This year, the charity will have 850 volunteers including doctors, nurses, podiatrists, ultrasound technicians, paramedics and dentists. “It’s the world’s biggest music festival, so it has to have the world’s best medical service,” says FMS operations director Dave Parry.

Until last year, the charity relied on a 10,000 sq metre grid coordinated with the names of various areas to locate people. “Imagine a field full of orange tents,” says Parry. “‘I’m by the third tent from the left’ doesn’t really narrow it down. We thought, ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this’.”

Parry was previously a locality manager for the Welsh ambulance service in Powys, the least-densely populated area of Wales. “We attended rural incidences where people had fallen from horses in remote areas,” he says. “It’s taken quite a long time to find them because of where they are.”

Last year, FMS trialled a location system from tech company What3Words at the Glastonbury festival, superimposing a new grid on an aerial image of the event on its opening morning, and asked its first responders to use the app on their smartphones.

What3Words allocates a unique three-word combination to each of the 57tn three-by-three sq metre areas covering the planet. Users can now locate the festival stone circle by inputting the three-word combination “pushy.inert.teaspoons” into the app.

The responders follow the crowds, so from 6am until midday, they concentrate on the market areas, moving later to the stage areas and on to the entertainment areas after the stages have closed. “We can normally get a responder to someone within 10-15 minutes, and if it’s a higher-priority call we get there a lot quicker,” he says.

What3Words was co-founded by Chris Sheldrick, an event manager who previously ran a music business organising events for musicians such as Lionel Ritchie and Billy Joel.

“This whole idea came from me giving an address, let’s say of a site entrance at a festival or event venue, to a load of musicians and suppliers and seeing the carnage that ensued when people put that into whatever their mapping app or satnav was,” says Sheldrick. “They used to show up at all sorts of places – none of which were correct.”

Trying to solve the problem, Sheldrick started providing latitude and longitude coordinates, which when used with a device with GPS such as a smartphone is usually accurate to within a few metres – particularly in the countryside where satellite signals can be clearly received. But doing so means entering figures precise to five decimal points.

“It’s just amazing how prone to human error they are,” says Sheldrick. “You’re dealing with a long string of numbers. We had truck drivers mixing up a four and a five and depositing all the equipment an hour north of Rome rather than an hour south of Rome.”

The word combinations are easier to remember, solving problems with lengthy longitude and latitude coordinates. To avoid confusion, the system keeps similar word combinations geographically separate – “pushy.inert.teaspoon” is a location in Texas and “inert.pushy.teaspoons” is in Alaska. “We’ve built it for human error,” says Sheldrick.

What3Words provides a free-to-download smartphone app that works with or without a network signal, with a computerised compass using GPS to point the way to a chosen location. The system is also available through a website, and can be used by other businesses for a fee.

The system – which is available in 12 languages – has been used by the Red Cross and local medical staff in Tanzania to map water points and collect samples during a cholera outbreak and also by a medical courier to deliver drugs to patients in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town in South Africa.

At Glastonbury, the service is particularly useful when a responder needs to call for other staff or a vehicle, such as in cases of haemorrhage and trauma, or when they move away from their initially-reported location. “It was remarkably accurate,” says Parry. “It was able to pinpoint where responders were on site so we could dispatch the relevant assistance to them.” This year, he expects that some festival-goers will also begin using it to locate friends at events.

He believes that What3Words could be used for walkers, canoeists and marine rescue – its grid covers sea as well as land. “The potential is enormous.”

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