FAQ

How can we help?
What is Beacon?

Beacon is a text message-based emergency dispatching platform designed specifically for communities with limited access to emergency care and transport.

Beacon enables to communities to leverage their own resources in order to design, launch, manage and sustain their own emergency response networks on any phone, with or without internet connection, and anywhere there’s a mobile phone signal.

How can I use Beacon?

Beacon was developed for prehospital emergency response (i.e., “9-1-1”), but its application goes far beyond the traditional notion of ambulance services.

If you’re dealing with the location, stabilization and transport of medical patients to, from or between healthcare facilities, then Beacon can do a lot to help you improve the efficiency of your communications.

Can Beacon be used by fire departments?

Yes, it can and it is! There is an asterisk to this claim, however — Beacon can be used by fire departments to dispatch personnel and equipment to the scene of an emergency, and it can coordinate their response efforts as they’re related to getting resources on-scene and requesting more, but Beacon does not help fire department manage fireground operations for involved structure or wildland fires. That requires radios, among other more advanced technologies.

Can Beacon be used by police departments?

It can and it is, but we don’t pretend that Beacon was designed for police dispatching – it wasn’t. But it happens that sometimes it’s a better solution than what already exists. Emergency medical dispatching is different than police dispatching in the fact that persons with medical emergencies can often be convinced to stay and wait while criminal suspects may be more difficult to persuade. This means that police are better served by more dynamic communications than text messages, like radios. Beacon is used by law enforcement in two countries to inform officers of the location of medical emergencies, and police officers also relay incidents they hear about to local dispatchers using Beacon, but at present the platform

Can Beacon replace radios?

No – not yet, at least. Radios are currently indispensable for coordinating dynamic incidents — like a foot chase. The good news is that for medical emergencies, in the vast majority of cases the patient is not moving, making it easy to ensure that the reported location is correct. For a lot of police dispatching and large scale fire-ground operations, radios are necessary — Beacon can only alert you of the location and allow you to request additional resources, but the remaining functions are predominately for medical transport.

We don’t have any ambulances. Would Beacon still be useful to us?

Yes, of course! Beacon was designed so that any person carrying a mobile phone could be dispatched to an emergency. Any vehicle will help get you to the location, and because Beacon communicates with mobile phones (and not mobile data terminals) whatever vehicle you use to transport to the hospital can be coordinated and tracked as well.

What does it cost to run Beacon?

There are a number of cost that may be included access to and use of Beacon:

  • Remote access – Beacon is run on Trek Medics’ servers and charged as monthly bundle rate depending on call volume, number of responders and technical support needed; includes access to all updates, enhancements and add-ons
  • Local installation — Beacon is installed and run on local servers and operated and maintained by local management; costs depend on desired configuration and level of assistance requested, but can include:
    • Set up and installation
    • Technical support
    • System development and operations advising
    • Software customization
    • Access to updates, enhancements and add-ons to core platform offered at annual subscription fee
What makes Beacon different from other mobile dispatching technologies?

Beacon has been designed specifically for emergency dispatching in resource-limited settings, and with the flexibility to meet those challenges, however they may present. Beacon can be used as a standalone dispatching system (e.g., for a rural community with no existing communications system) or can also be used to seamlessly augment and expand the coverage of existing dispatching setups (e.g., CADs). Beacon can be set up and disassembled for temporary or short-term deployments, or can be installed on remote and/or local servers for permanent operations. It takes just a few minutes to learn for someone with only a basic understanding of how to read and reply to text messages and can easily accommodate small response groups while also scaling to national-level emergency services with little extra reconfiguration needed.

What do you need to set it up?
  1. Proven management
  2. Trained responders
  3. Adequate transportation
  4. A phone number that the public can call
  5. At least one internet-connected device (preferable, but not required)
Are you looking for developers?

Yes, always! Please send us an email if you’re interested in getting involved with our software development team.

Apps are much easier to use and more straightforward… Why isn’t there a Beacon app?

We designed Beacon to be universally accessible for the public and our first responders. Relying on an app to report emergencies requires that everyone:

  • Uses a smartphone
  • Is always connected to mobile broadband internet
  • Has a registered account with an app store
  • Has the app downloaded on their phone

Furthermore, apps must be able to function across a wide range of devices, and rely on first responders or the public to update them regularly. In contract, the public access numbers like 911 that Beacon uses generally stay the same, and can be access by anyone, whether they use a mobile phone or landline

Wouldn’t Beacon be more streamlined if it had no human dispatchers? Why not connect callers and victims directly to responders?

The presence of a human dispatcher provides multiple advantages that are lost when channeled through an automated app:

  • Real-time feedback between caller and dispatcher
  • Ability to provide pre-arrival instructions over the phone much more easily
  • Talking on phone allows caller to keep their eyes on the scene of the emergency (and not the phone screen)
  • Dispatchers are able to pick up on context and background info (vs. trying to interpret text messages)
  • If you’re texting you can’t be giving CPR — but you can if it’s on speakerphone

Why doesn’t Beacon use GPS for locating emergencies or coordinating responders?

In addition to the fact that GPS usually requires mobile broadband internet to work well, there are other issues that a GPS-based dispatching system presents:

  • GPS locations can be imprecise, causing significant problems in high population densities where the margin of error may extend across multiple adjacent buildings
  • GPS does not indicate vertical positioning, which causes problems in multi-story buildings
  • If the GPS location is being taken from the caller’s phone, that assumes that the witness is next to the victim, which is not always the case
  • First responders having GPS turned on drains their cell phone battery much faster

Aren’t there already a bunch of messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook messenger that can do what Beacon does?

In addition to the limitations above that come with texting, these kind of apps have additional problems when it comes to emergency dispatching.

For one, using third-party apps, e.g,. WhatsApp or Facebook, may be make sensitive data available to non-authorized parties or inaccessible to authorized parties.

Even when secure, the problem is scalability: a Twitter list or a WhatsApp chat group may be able to alert multiple responders to a single emergency, but dispatching the same responders to multiple incidents in different locations at the same time is far more difficult with these apps. Beacon’s dynamic allocation algorithm knows how to efficiently manage emergency first responders to get them where they need to be.

Why don’t callers or victims just text the emergency to the Beacon number instead of calling?

Typing text messages is far more time consuming, especially on non-smart phones and for communities with lower tech literacy. Also, pre-arrival instructions are difficult to both give and perform while texting— imagine trying to give CPR or administer a drug while texting with the dispatcher (vs. speakerphone, for example)!

Don’t all of those text messages being sent back and forth get expensive?

Not necessarily. Beacon streamlines the entire dispatching process from initial alert to incident resolution for as many or as few responders as required. In order to keep text message costs low for services that don’t enjoy internet messaging, there are a range of tactics that can be employed to make sure that the right number of SMS are being sent:

  • Only include active responders – if they aren’t participating they are a big source of waste so should be removed from distribution lists
  • Optimize the level of coverage in each community — Match the number of responders needed to the actual call volume in order to maintain efficient resource allocation
  • Introduce Beacon training at the very outset — There’s no reason why Beacon can’t be incorporated in medical training from the outset; not only does it reduce the number of errors made during regular operations, but it also helps to slow nervous and inexperienced responders down who are prone to make mistakes in high-pressure settings
What is an SMS gateway and why do we need one?

SMS gateways are dedicated telephone numbers that allow our Beacon software to send messages to and receive messages from your first responders. This way, the first responders can send their short text message responses to a phone number that’s easily saved in their contacts, and will receive messages from this same number at each stage of the emergency incident.

Thankfully, in most countries there are companies who can offer you a this SMS gateway and with a dedicated number for you to use with Beacon.

What languages is Beacon available in?
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Haitian Creole
What can Beacon do for you?

Send us an email about how you think Beacon might be able to help your service.

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