If you’ve ever found yourself lost and alone in an unfamiliar place, you know just how scary it can be. In August 2019 Jess Tinsley experienced such a panic when she went on a forest walk with her boyfriend and another pal. You see, the trio eventually wandered away from any recognized path – and they couldn’t find their way back. Then, fearing that bad weather was closing in, the group decided to call for help. And that’s when Tinsley gave rescue services three simple words that just might have saved their lives – and they could save yours one day, too.
What had happened? Well, the threesome initially headed out for their forest ramble on a Sunday evening. The inexperienced hikers actually intended to play it safe and simply stick to the beaten paths. But as the evening drew on, something started to feel amiss. And when the group checked their location on a map, they discovered that they had wandered off their original course.
The three ramblers were unfamiliar with the forest through which they had chosen to hike – and the weather was starting to deteriorate. This led the friends to err on the side of caution and, rather than push their luck, call for help. They clearly needed help to get out of a situation that was looking trickier by the hour, after all.
But the dense vegetation of the forest made getting a signal on their cell phones particularly tricky. Fortunately, though, the group reached a clearing and managed to connect an emergency call. Then they encountered another problem: the trio would be hard to locate when they weren’t sure where they were themselves.
As we’ve mentioned, the hikers were totally stranded without a clue of how to navigate their way out of the forest. So when at last they got through to the rescue services they were unable to relay to the operator precisely where they were. But then Tinsley uttered three words that magically made all the difference.
But perhaps magic had nothing to do with it. Jess Tinsley is clearly a woman who knows things, after all. In fact, Tinsley is a 24-year-old mom who lives in the north-east of England. And when, on August 11, 2019, she decided to go for a stroll after work, she didn’t go alone. Joining her at around 7:00 p.m. that Sunday was her partner, Kieran Parkinson, and their mutual companion Dan Curry.
The location the group chose for their evening ramble was Hamsterley Forest – about 15 miles from Tinsley’s Newton Aycliffe home. It’s a popular spot, too. Hamsterley Forest in fact sits on the edge of the North Pennines, which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). AONBs are conservation areas smaller than national parks, but no less important to the U.K. countryside.
Yet this was the first time that the small group had been to Hamsterley Forest. They knew, however, that the area offers numerous recreational pursuits, including trails for cycling, horse riding and hiking – so visitors can easily explore the stunning woodlands. Tinsley and co., then, opted to follow one of its marked paths before the sun set.
The walk they planned to take is five miles long and should have taken them directly back to where they had started. As we already know, however, the trek didn’t quite work out that way. Yes, as the friends wandered through the forest, time wore on, and eventually the group felt that they had walked much further than they had intended.
Two hours into their hike, in fact, Tinsley, Parkinson and Curry grew wary of how long it was taking to complete their walk. It’s understandable that the mood within the group was likely pretty bleak too. There can be few things worse, after all, than being lost and alone in unfamiliar woods as darkness quickly descends.
Tinsley recalled to newspaper Metro in August 2019, “We were in a field and had no idea where we were. It was absolutely horrendous. I was joking about it and trying to laugh, because I knew if I didn’t laugh I would cry.” But if the group didn’t know where they were, how would they find their way back?
A further hour passed before the friends stumbled across a map to help them. That’s when they realized that they had strayed onto a path that extended for 12 miles. Yet they still had no clue as to where on the path they actually were. This was at 10:00 p.m. – and the weather was only worsening.
The trio knew by now that they needed help. So they located a nearby clearing in the woodland and were relieved to discover that it offered them the cell phone signal that they needed to call for help. They then dialled 101 for a non-emergency police response to get help finding their way out of the forest.
Yet the main problem still remained: if Tinsley, Parkinson and Curry didn’t know where they were, how would they relay their position to the operator? And with night drawing in, both time and the elements were starting to work against the group. Were they destined to be stranded there all night?
The emergency services are, of course, trained professionals, and the call handler Tinsley spoke to immediately identified what needed to happen next. All that the person on the other end of the line needed was for Tinsley to utter three words. But what the operator told her baffled the young mom.
You see, the voice on the phone instructed Tinsley to immediately download an app. At first, Tinsley was confused. It was, after all, no time to be playing games. But when the young mom realized what was happening she soon told the call operator the three words that might have saved her group’s lives.
Tinsley said the words “kicked,” “converged,” and “soccer.” Now, that may seem like a secret password or as though Tinsley was talking in riddles. And, in a sense, it was a series of code words. It all has to do with the app that she had just been instructed to download.
When Tinsley phoned for help, you see, the call operative immediately recognized a situation in which a phone app named What3words could be used. What3words is a location tracker app that can identify a device’s position to within 10 square feet. The user can then communicate their location using unique three-word strings.
Tinsley hadn’t even been aware that the app existed. In fact, the home care worker initially thought the instruction was an odd one. She admitted to The Northern Echo newspaper in August 2019, “When the call handler first told us to download the app, I thought they were crazy.” Yet it allowed the group to quickly be located.
When Tinsley opened the app, then, it generated the three words unique to the group’s position. Tinsley then shared those words with the operator, and a rescue team was later able to pinpoint the trio’s precise location. The emergency services subsequently raced to get Tinsley and co. out of the depths of the forest.
Pete Bell of the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team explained how his squad had located the trekkers. He told The Northern Echo, “We were able to check the What3words code against our system and send them a text which, once opened, gives us a reference in our mapping which was bang on.”
Tinsley and her fellow hikers were naturally thrilled when the rescue team arrived. And thanks to the What3words app, the rescuers managed to locate the stranded trio within an hour and a half of their request for help. “I was so happy,” the young mom told the newspaper. “It only took a minute for them to pinpoint our location.”
Bell concurred, telling the Echo, “We were really happy with the result, which was very effective and everyone was well – albeit a bit cold. They were lucky to have had a phone signal as it’s normally really bad in the forest.” So, how does the app work, and what makes it so accurate?
The software was actually developed by Chris Sheldrick, who was inspired to make it by his rural upbringing in the English countryside. He told news broadcaster the BBC in August 2019, “Our postcode did not point to our house.” A postcode is the U.K. equivalent of a ZIP code; it is used to identify an area containing multiple addresses as a delivery point for mail.
The issue Sheldrick had as a kid, however, is that the area the postcode covered was too large to pinpoint his home address. As he described, “We got used to getting [mail] meant for other people or having to stand in the road to flag down delivery drivers.” And location problems continued into his adult life.
Later on, you see, Sheldrick worked in the music industry for a decade. He then encountered problems when he needed an accurate location for bands to meet at concert venues. This actually proved to be a source of some frustration – especially when musicians and crew members found themselves on the wrong side of town.
As the What3words website describes, “[Sheldrick] had some pretty bad days, like in Italy, when a driver unloaded all the equipment an hour north of Rome, instead of an hour south of Rome. And a slightly worse day, when a keyboard player called him and said, ‘Chris, don’t panic, but we may have just sound-checked at the wrong wedding.’”
“I tried to get people to use longitude and latitude, but that never caught on,” Sheldrick told the BBC. Numbers can be hard to remember, after all, and the more digits a number has, the harder it is to recall accurately. Sheldrick also began to think of ways in which the numerical longitude and latitude system could be simplified.
“It got me thinking, how can you compress 16 digits into something much more user-friendly?” Sheldrick said to the BBC. Then, after getting together with a former acquaintance who happened to be a math whizz, the idea for What3words was conceived on the back of an envelope. The aim was to create a system as accurate as GPS but more intuitive.
So Sheldrick overlaid a grid onto a map of the world. This was made up of 57 trillion squares, each measuring three meters, or about 10 feet. Each square was then assigned three words at random, giving each block its own unique identifier. And if you think 57 trillion is too big a number, the process actually requires fewer words than you might believe.
It only actually takes 40,000 words and their multiple combinations to cover Sheldrick’s 57-trillion-square grid of the globe. For example, “sulk.held.raves” indicates a location inside The White House in Washington, D.C. More specifically, “metal.deeper.hits” defines an area inside the Oval Office. The app’s biggest accomplishment, however, is in its pinpoint accuracy.
For instance, if you wanted to navigate your way around The White House, the three words “takes.ritual.skins” locates the kitchen, whereas “pump.reveal.firmly” would take you to the library. In fact, the What3words app is so precise, about six of its 57 trillion squares cover The White House’s library, so you could even pinpoint a specific section of the room.
Sheldrick began developing his idea in 2013, and the What3words company now has a staff of over 100 employees at its headquarters in London. Or “filled.count.soap,” if you prefer. The company’s goal is to become the way everyone communicates their location to colleagues – particularly since its precision allows users to locate friends among large crowds.
And while What3words isn’t yet the global standard navigation tool, it is nevertheless catching on. The postal service in Mongolia, for example, uses the app for deliveries. Meanwhile, Lonely Planet identifies attractions and geographical features using its unique three-word locators. Mercedes Benz has also incorporated the app into its in-car navigation systems.
What’s more, emergency service crews believe What3words will make their jobs more efficient. “It cuts out all ambiguity about where we need to be,” crew manager Lee Wilkes explained to the BBC. His team, part of the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, is among 35 of the UK’s emergency services already signed up to the app.
Wilkes says What3words could be particularly useful when tackling wildfires. He told the BBC in August 2019, “Instead of saying [to] meet at the gate and then get directed from there, we can be absolutely specific about where our crew needs to get to. It will make for a much more effective service. We are quite excited about it.”
The app also doesn’t require cell phone service to work. As Sheldrick explained to the broadcaster, “Say there was a group up a mountain and one got injured. They haven’t got any signal to call for help, but they can still find out their three-word location.” Someone can then go for help and relay their friends’ exact position to rescue teams.
In recent months, for instance, What3words has been used to track down a 65-year-old man who had fallen down a bank near a railway line. And the app also helped a woman who had wrecked her car but didn’t know her location. The app has even been used to defuse a hostage situation because the victim was able to relay her location to police.
“That was a time-critical situation,” Sheldrick explained of the hostage drama. He told the BBC, “Being able to use a three-word address meant officers could get there much quicker, rescue the hostage and arrest a man. That made us understand how the work we are doing is so important.” Indeed, for Tinsley it meant being reunited with her daughter, Emmie.
Tinsley’s experience has put her off going to Hamsterley Forest for the time being, though. Yet she has only praise for the app and the crew that helped in her rescue. She told The Northern Echo, “I will never forget those three words and can’t thank the police and mountain rescue team enough.”
Hopefully, you’ll never need to use What3words. But if you do find yourself lost and scared, this knowledge could be a life-saver. And besides, it’s always smart to be prepared – whatever the potential situation. If, for instance, you ever end up bound at the wrists with a zip tie or duct tape, learn this simple technique that can snap you out of your restraints in seconds.
It’s a nightmarish scenario to imagine – let alone live through. But having your wrists zip-tied to restrain your movements is something that could potentially happen to you. Thankfully, though, the team at Imminent Threat Solutions (ITS) have explained how you can easily escape from such a situation in seconds.
And Bryan Black is the founder of ITS. He had previously been in the U.S. Navy; his time in the military was, however, cut short by an injury. Nevertheless, he completed much of the training required to become a SEAL and so learned a lot about taking care of himself in tough circumstances.
Then, after leaving the military, Black developed his interest in the outdoors. And together, all of his experiences inspired him to establish ITS, a website that helps readers to safely explore the world while also learning skills that can get them out of unsafe situations.
One potential threat identified by Black and his team is kidnapping. More specifically, in a YouTube video that the team produced, they focused on restraint by zip ties – although they also acknowledged that some kidnappers may prefer to utilize rope or duct tape.
And as the ITS staff point out on the website, “All of these methods can be easily defeated.” In a kidnap situation, then, it’s all about waiting for the right moment to act. “Your captors are most likely not going to have the resources or the patience to keep an eye on you constantly,” the ITS site says.
So, to demonstrate what people should do in such an emergency, the ITS team invested in the strongest zip ties available to them. “We chose these because realistically, if someone was determined to go out and buy zip ties to use to illegally restrain someone, they’d more than likely hit the local hardware store and find the toughest ones they could,” they wrote.
And in the resulting YouTube video, an instructor showcases a very simple way to escape from restraints. He uses a zip tie, although he advises viewers to practice first with duct tape. “This can hurt a little,” he says of the hard plastic tie before adding, “Duct tape works the same as what we’ll show.”
However, in the case of a zip-tie restraint, there are a few material-specific instructions. For starters, the ITS instructor points out the locking bar, which holds both ends of the plastic strip in a loop around your wrists.
The placement of the locking bar is very important, the ITS instructor says. “What you’re going to want to do is secure the zip ties so [that] this locking bar that you’ll defeat is right in the middle of your hands,” he advises.
The instructor then places both hands through the loop and begins to tighten the zip tie around his wrist by pulling the loose end with his teeth. “The tighter they are, the easier it’ll be,” he says.
With that, the instructor begins to explain the quick, simple motion that will snap the zip tie in two. “You’re going to be coming down and kind of chicken-winging your arms. And, at the same time, you’re going to push,” he says.
The tutor demonstrates this move by putting his arms over his head then bringing them back down toward his belly button. His arms are, in fact, in a triangular position – this is what he means by “chicken-winging” them down.
To reiterate the technique, the instructor provides another description of how it should look and feel. “In one fluid motion, you’re going to come from the top and push down. And [you] almost want to simulate touching your shoulder blades together as you come down,” he says.
Then it’s time for the tutor to demonstrate how the move would work in real life. He again puts his hands over his head and launches them back down toward his stomach. And at the bottom of that trajectory, the zip tie snaps off – with the entire process taking just two seconds.
The ITS video demonstrating the technique has since racked up more than 8.5 million views on YouTube too – although there have been mixed opinions about the ITS team’s advice. For instance, some people wondered how this would work in an enclosed space such as the trunk of a car.
Then, of course, there was the question of the hand and zip tie placement. “Anyone who [has] had any training with restraints would never tie hands in front of the person,” wrote one YouTube user.
To that end, another commenter noted how the zip tie placement would have to be just right in order for the plan to work. “I guess you could ask the bad guy nicely to put the catch end… in the right place,” they joked.
Nonetheless, the tip from the ITS instructor would at least work if the zip tie was placed in front of someone. And for that, many YouTube users were thankful. For example, one individual wrote, “Some people might call tips like this being paranoid. But this could save a life.”
And on the ITS website, the team provide more suggestions on how to break out of zip ties or how to slip your hands from a loop, depending on the way you’re tied. However, in any situation, they advise you to “remain passive” so that kidnappers have no indication of your expertise.
In addition, the ITS team passed on one final tip to render the escape simpler. “Make every effort to present your hands to your captor before they use force to restrain you. Essentially, you’re presenting the wrist position of your choosing to them,” they wrote. And if you remember that, you may just be able to break free from a terrifying situation.