Feb 09 2022

Calling and directing the emergency services

It’s the phone call none of us want to make, as it means there’s an emergency and help is needed urgently.


Woodland Trust staff or volunteers who find themselves in an emergency must try not to panic and feel confident to call 999.


This Guidance Note is to support that process for Woodland Trust emergencies.


Being aware of the procedures followed when you dial 999 could make you better prepared to react calmly and confidently in an emergency. When you dial 999, you don’t get put straight through to the emergency services. Instead, you speak to an operator who asks which service you require: ambulance, fire, police or coastguard. If you require Mountain Rescue, ask for the police and relay information as requested. If they feel it appropriate, the police will contact Mountain Rescue, who will then call you back.


If you are seeking help for an injured person in a remote location, the police should still be the emergency service of choice and not initially the Ambulance Service – this will ensure that the necessary actions and notifications are taken (this is because the Ambulance Service are generally equipped to reach urban locations, so if you’re away from the road by much distance the Ambulance Service will need co-ordination of other rescue resources, which is initially organised by the police.)


Once you dial 999 the Operator will identify your approximate location, which, if you’re calling from a mobile phone, they can detect by identifying which phone mast your mobile is connected to. Most Android smartphones can be located to an area less than half the size of a football pitch using GPS signal and Wi-Fi location data. If you’re calling from a landline, they can consult a database of addresses linked to phone numbers.


Once your location has been determined, the Operator will patch you through to a call handler at the service closest to you.


What happens next varies depending on which service you require, and where you are in the UK.


112 is the European emergency number originally designed for countries that did not have dedicated emergency numbers – in the UK it automatically re-directs to 999. The belief that it is somehow better than 999 is a myth.



Calling 999 via text message – Emergency SMS

Since 2009 it’s been possible to summon emergency services via text using the Emergency SMS service

A relay assistant will speak your SMS message to a 999 Operator and their reply will be sent back to you as an SMS message. If you send another SMS text message the relay assistant will read it to the 999 Operator and send their reply back to you and so on.

In order to use this service you must first register your phone – do this by texting the word “Register” to 999 and the follow the instructions as shown below:




Emergency SMS can be extremely useful, as a text message can be sent when there is not sufficient signal to make a call; the Police can be summoned silently if someone is trying to evade a possible attacker and those with hearing difficulties can use it on a standard mobile without having to get special equipment.

The emergency services offer the following advice for using Emergency SMS:





Ensuring you can summon help effectively


It’s essential that the Woodland Trust manages its activities and its sites so we can summon the Emergency Services quickly, effectively and accurately.

For any site based work activity or event, this must take place as part of the risk assessment process before the activity or event commences – the risk assessment record form adopted by the Trust asks for a grid reference or postcode – this must be completed every time for the location we wish to use for emergency access.

Which gate or entrance will you direct an ambulance to if need be? If there’s a wildfire, how will the Fire & Rescue Service get onto site? Our Generic Risk Assessment Documents for work activities can be found in the Whittle library.

Complex or large sites may require more than one grid reference.


Anyone leading a group activity on Woodland Trust sites – Volunteer Woodland Working Group Leaders leading a work party, Site Managers or volunteers leading guided walks, event organisers etc., should ensure they share these access points with others involved in the day – just in case something should happen to them.

A good way of doing this is to print a copy of the Risk Assessment, and then leave it with the site first aid kit or some other location that anyone can access – Then tell people as part of the site briefing or tool talk. “If you need first aid please ask me, and if anything happens to me, please call an ambulance – you can get our location here” *Waves Risk Assessment around, and puts it by the brew kit.

Emergency access points are recorded on GISMO maps – these must be shared with volunteers or contractors as necessary.



Determining Emergency access locations


A number of methods exist for the Woodland Trust to determine the locations on our sites that we can summon the Emergency Services to if we need to.

Ordnance Survey grid references and postcodes are standard, but co-ordinates for latitude & longitude or What3Words addresses can also be extremely useful and may from time to time be required – Helicopter pilots engaged to fight a wildfire for example will prefer latitude & longitude co-ordinates.

The following sections give advice on how to use these navigational systems.



Ordnance Survey Grid References


Ordnance Survey Grid references are extremely useful for plotting accurate locations in rural environments where there are no postcodes nearby. They come in four, six, eight and ten figure variants. To use eight or ten figure GR’s accurately you will need a larger scale map if using a hard copy – at least 1:25,000 in scale.

The Woodland Trust must use at least six figure grid references for emergency access points to its sites.


Using OS locate


Anyone can download the app free of charge from their app provider such as Play Store or the Ios App Store

Once installed on your phone; this useful app will provide an accurate six figure grid reference for its current location:

Grid references can also be found quickly and easily using the grid reference finder website here – go to: https://gridreferencefinder.com/



Using hard copy OS maps – How to read a four-figure grid reference


Whether you are using an OS Explorer Map (the orange ones) or an OS Landranger Map (the pink ones) you’ll notice that the map is covered with a grid of thin blue lines that form square boxes all over the map.

Each line, whether running vertically or horizontally across the map has a number on it (both at either end of the line and somewhere halfway along).

The numbers that run from left to right (or west to east) on the map are called Eastings – this is because the number of the line increases the further east you go.

The numbers that run from bottom to top (or south to north) on the map are called Northings – this is because the number of the line increases the further north you go.

Using OL13 for the Brecon Beacons as an example, imagine we are following the Three Castle Walk near its crossing with Bont Brook and want to let people know where we are. To take a four figure grid reference you take the Easting first (taking the number that is bottom left of the square you are looking for) and then the Northing (from the vertical line). Regardless of which map you are using – this places you in a 1 km square box, in this case, 3920.



Great Britain is also broken down into 100 km square boxes – each has a prefix of two letters. These letters can be found in each of the four corners of your map. Add these to the start of your grid reference and you have pin pointed your exact location. In this case, we’re in square SO, so our four figure reference is SO3920.




How to read a six-figure grid reference


To get the Emergency services to site promptly and effectively, you’ll want to narrow down the area by creating a six figure grid reference – this will then place you in a 100 metre box.

To do this, imagine that that one box identified in your four figure grid reference is broken down into smaller squares – 10 x 10 squares, which are marked all around the edges of your map.

Starting with “0” as the number of the first box – count across from the Easting line to where you are and add this to your Easting number of your four figure grid reference.

Then you do the same with the Northing – starting with “0” in the first box – count up how many squares you are from the bottom northing line of the square

Putting these together you have your six figure grid reference so this puts us at SO393203.



Longitude & Latitude


The latitude & longitude coordinate system uses angular measurements to describe a position on the surface of the earth. The system has been in use, with little change, since the astronomer Ptolemy used them in his first world atlas in A.D. 150.


Lines of latitude measure north-south position between the poles. The equator is defined as 0 degrees, the North Pole is 90 degrees north, and the South Pole is 90 degrees south. Lines of latitude are all parallel to each other, thus they are often referred to as parallels.


Lines of longitude, or meridians, run between the North and South Poles. They measure east-west position. The prime meridian is assigned the value of 0 degrees, and runs through Greenwich. Meridians to the west of the prime meridian are measured in degrees west and likewise those to the east of the prime meridian are measured to by their number of degrees east.


To get the coordinates of a place using a computer, Google maps is a useful resource


On your computer, open Google Maps. *If you’re using Maps in Lite mode, you’ll see a lightning bolt at the bottom and you won’t be able to get the coordinates of a place.

  1. Right-click the place or area on the map.
  2. Select “what’s here?”
  3. At the bottom, you’ll see a card with the coordinates.


If using a smartphone or tablet out on site open the mapping app touch and hold the location required – this will “drop a pin” and the longitude & latitude will be displayed for that location at the top of the screen:





Bing Maps are also an excellent resource – open the map and select the type view you want from the drop down menu on the right (in this example, a satellite view has been chosen) Then simply move the cursor over the point you need the coordinates for and right click the mouse – the coordinates will appear as follows:




Hand held GPS systems can be useful on site to determine co-ordinates of a particular spot. In order for these units to work they will need a clear view of the sky, so make take a while to calibrate under dense woodland canopies. Consult your individual manufacturer’s instructions to find out how to display longitude & latitude. They can be also set to display UK grid references – often called “British National Grid (BNG)” on device menus



Tips for formatting your coordinates

To get the best out of map software consider the following tips:

  • Use the degree symbol instead of “d”.
  • Use full stops as decimals, not commas. Incorrect: 41,40338, 2,17403. Correct: 41.40338, 2.17403.
  • List your latitude coordinates before longitude coordinates.
  • Check that the first number in your latitude coordinate is between -90 and 90.




What3Words is a mobile phone app that enables extremely accurate mapping. It works by dividing the planet earth into 3x3m squares and assigning a unique combination of words to that square. The example below shows the unique address of the entrance to the Woodland Trust HQ – its unique 3 word address is sooner.spark.middle:




The What3Words app can enable someone to find their location and share it with others – anyone using the app can open a satellite or map view of the address they have been given. Emergency Services across the UK are increasingly using What3Words, so it can be an extremely useful tool. It must not however be used as an alternative to traditional grid references or postcodes on Woodland Trust risk assessments.


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