Beacon FAQ

How can we help?

Why doesn’t Beacon use GPS to find the Responder that’s closest?

If you’ve ever used Uber or Lyft, you know that these ride-sharing apps use GPS to find the driver that’s closest to you, so it makes sense that Beacon should be able to do that, too, right?

Not exactly.

There are several reasons why Beacon doesn’t use the GPS location of Responders to decide who’s closest:

  1. Not all Responders have smartphones and/or Internet connectivity all the time. If Beacon only relied on GPS locations, then Responders using Beacon via SMS would never get assigned to incidents because Beacon wouldn’t know their location
  2. Beacon doesn’t know where you are unless you have your phone turned on and the Beacon app open in the foreground. As soon as you turn the phone off, lock the phone screen, put the app in the background or swipe close it, Android and iOS no longer allow apps to track your location. As a result, once the Beacon mobile app is no longer open and in the foreground, Beacon only knows your last reported location, which may or may not be your current location.
  3. Uber and Lyft drivers do it to get paid, while many Beacon users are volunteers. This makes a big difference: When an Uber or Lyft driver gets assigned to a call, they usually take it because that’s how they make money. If you’re using Broadcast Alerts in Beacon, it’s very likely you’re working with volunteer Responders. And as we all know is the case with volunteers, they often get alerts for emergency incidents that they don’t respond to — even if they’re the closest person to the incident. So, telling the closest Responders to an incident that they’re needed, only to learn that they’re not going to respond, is just a huge waste of time.
  4. Hailing a taxi is a fairly simple transaction; when someone asks for a taxi, they only need one vehicle to come pick them up. Emergency dispatching is very different. For starters, not all emergencies are the same. If someone slips and falls, you may only need one ambulance to respond. But for a motor vehicle collision with multiple victims, you’ll likely need more resources. While it’s possible in theory to automate all of the different response combinations that exist, we’ll be very impressed to see it when it happens. Until then, we’ll rely on Dispatchers to figure out the type of resources they’ll need for each incident, and then let Responders decide if they can or can’t go.

The bottom line is: Don’t be fooled by how “easy” technological solutions look at face value. It may be easy to compare emergency response apps to pizza delivery apps, but in reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Anybody who wants to make that comparison has never worked in an emergency service.

Why can’t I see the location of other Responders?

For Mobile App Users

Both Android and iOS devices have a number of restrictions in place to make sure that mobile app users are only sharing their location when desired. The following criteria have to be met in order for you to see the location of other responders in your mobile app:

  1. The responder has to have “Supervisor View” permissions which are given when the responder is first registered by a dispatcher
  2. The responder has to give their device permission to share their location with Beacon
  3. The responder has to set their GPS Tracking settings to “Always” or “Only during incidents” in the mobile app (watch this video or read this page to learn more)

Once those criteria have been met, then the mobile app user must have their phone turned on and the Beacon mobile app in the foreground to share their most recent location.


Supervisor & GPS Tracking - Beacon Mobile App


*Note: If you click on a responder’s icon in the sidebar of the mobile app, and it says “Location Unavailable” that happens for two reasons:

Location Unavailable - Beacon Mobile App

  1. The responder is using Beacon via SMS or
  2. The responder has not met the criteria listed above




For Web App Users

If responders comply with the criteria above, then dispatchers will be able to see the last reported location of the responder. This may or may not be the most recent location — if a responder doesn’t have the phone on, the app in the foreground and/or hasn’t changed their GPS Tracking settings to “Always” or “Only during incidents”, then the dispatcher will not be able to see the most recent location (even if they click the Ping button on the home screen map).

We’re sorry to belabor this point, but we have gotten enough complaints from users saying “The web app isn’t showing my current location”, when the reality is that they don’t understand how GPS Tracking works. Please keep in mind that Android and iOS do not allow mobile apps to track a user’s location all the time no matter what. Permissions have to be granted, the phone has to be on, the app has to be in the foreground, and the settings have to be configured correctly. (For example, if the responder allows Beacon to track their location “Only During Incidents“, and there is no active incident, then their current location will not be displayed until they are assigned to an incident and they interact with Beacon.

Similarly, if responders install the app for the first time, and they have set their GPS Tracking settings in the app to “Only During Incidents“, their location will not appear until they have been assigned to an incident and they interact with Beacon.

To resolve this, try these steps:

  • Tell the responder to temporarily change their GPS Tracking settings to “Always”, and then ask them to click the MyLocation button on the home screen of their app
  • Create a new incident and assign the responder to that incident. Once they reply to a message, Beacon will update their location (assuming they have followed all the other steps)

We wish it more straightforward but, like Push Notifications, there are restrictions placed on mobile apps by Android and iOS that require developers and users to meet certain criteria. At least in the case of GPS Tracking, this is a good thing for protecting privacy. But once you understand the criteria and educate your users, we are certain you’ll see the GPS Tracking works quite well.



Why am I not receiving alerts on my device?


Both Android and iOS have implemented restrictions on how mobile apps can receive push notifications (i.e., “Alerts”) that effect different devices in different ways. If you are having problems receiving push notifications, follow these instructions. If you are still having issues, please contact us at [email protected] to help you resolve the issue.


For iOS users:

  1. When you first install the Beacon app, make sure to give Beacon permissions to send you Push Notifications (see: Image 1 below)
  2. To confirm you’ve given permissions to Beacon, go to the Notifications screen in your Settings and make sure everything is set correctly (see: Image 2 below)
  3. Confirm you have the latest version of the Beacon app installed
  4. Confirm you have the latest version of iOS installed
  5. If all of these have been taken care of and you still aren’t receiving Push Notifications, restart your device by powering the entire phone off and then powering it back on


Beacon Push Notifications Settings iOS


For Android users:
Admittedly, it’s not easy to test every Android device as thoroughly as iOS because: A) There are hundreds of different devices that use the Android operating system, and B) Device manufacturers are able to change the Android operating system however they want, resulting in different devices handling notifications in different ways.

Fortunately, most Androids don’t have problems with push notifications, but we have seen that, in general, the cheaper Android devices are more likely to have problems with push notifications (as well as most Huawei devices). If you run into problems, here are some steps to take to troubleshoot (see images below for more details):

  1. Go to the Settings screen and click on the “App Notifications” screen, then select the Beacon app
  2. You should see two different types of notification options:
    • “Other” which handles chat messages
    • “Siren” which handles alert messages
  3. Select each Notification type and adjust the settings to look like images 4 & 5 below
    • Please note that every Android device has different Settings so you may not see the same display as is pictured below (this is from a Samsung Galaxy, which never has problems with Push Notifications). Whatever the case, make sure you are changing the notifications to be “Urgent”, to always display the badge, to always vibrate, and to override “Do Not Disturb”
  4. If you continue to have issues, here are some other settings to check (We told you — this is far more complicated than it should be. See the images below for more detail):
    • Settings>Notifications:
      • Turn off Notification Snoozing
      • Turn off Hiding Silent Notifications
    • Settings>Lock Screen
      • Turn on Notifications on Lock Screen
      • Turn on Wake Screen for Notifications
    • Settings>Battery Optimization
      • Don’t optimize battery use for Beacon
    • Settings>Adaptive Notifications
      • Turn off
  5. If none of these solutions work, then we have run into the limitations of Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM, the “cross-platform messaging solution that lets you reliably send messages at no cost.“)
    • According to the FCM site: “The Android framework advises that apps that have been stopped (not in background) should not be started without explicit user interaction. FCM follows this recommendation and thus does not deliver messages to stopped apps.”
    • What this means is that in order to receive Push Notifications from Beacon, you’ll have to keep the app open in the background.
    • Fortunately, we’ve only seen this happen on the low-end Android devices, but at least you now know. But if you’re still having problems, please send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll try to help you resolve it
    • We wish it were easier to straighten out, but we know we’re not alone — other apps built for emergency services are having the same exact problems.

Beacon App Notification Settings Android



Beacon App Notification Advanced Settings Android



When I open the app, all I see is a gray screen

You, or someone in your agency account, is likely still using the Beacon mobile app v3.3.Gray Screen in Beacon Mobile App

Log out, delete v3.3 and install v4.0 for Android or iOS.

I requested a Maximum of one Responder, but two were accepted

This is because of the Transport Modes of the different Responders.

Beacon will allow at least one vehicle capable of patient transport (e.g., ambulance, car, boat) to be assigned to each incident when you broadcast alerts. So, if you requested a maximum of one responder, and the first one to reply was on foot, if a car replied after, Beacon would still accept it.

This is an artifact of having originally designed Beacon exclusively for ambulance services and fire departments. In a future v5.0, it will be resolved.

When I open the app after getting the alert, I can’t see the Incident Location on the map and/or view the Incident Card

If you can’t locate the incident marker on the map and/or if you can’t view the Incident Card, the Dispatcher did not add an incident marker to the map when they created the incident. Send them a chat message to inform them and ask them to re-create the incident with a map marker.

When I click on the address in the sidebar, nothing happens

If you can’t locate the incident marker on the map, that’s likely because the Dispatcher did not add an incident marker when they created the incident.

Why does Beacon skip/drop messages sometimes?

There are several things that could cause Beacon to skip messages:

  1. Technical Error: If you’re using Beacon by SMS, it might be because of the local infrastructure, for example:
    1. The mobile phone signal was bad
    2. Your telecom carrier refused the message (this can sometimes happen when sending messages internationally)
  2. User Error: You may be having an issue on your end if:
    1. Your SMS inbox is full
    2. You don’t have credits on your phone
    3. Your phone has two SIM cards installed (it only can only have one installed, the same one that’s registered with Beacon)

It’s also possible that you may not understand the sequence of messages that Beacon sends. Depending on Beacon’s settings and how the incident goes, you may or may not receive all of the messages that you’re expecting.

Here are a couple resources to help you figure it out:

Why does the incident stay open after I complete it?

Incidents can be closed in three ways:

  1. All the responders complete the incident
  2. The dispatcher cancels the incident manually
  3. The Confirmation Windows close*

If you’re using Beacon to run simulations, it’s very likely you’re going to move through the incident very quickly — faster than in real life. This will result in you completing the incident before the Confirmation Windows close, so the incident will stay open until the Confirmation Windows close.

*To learn more about the importance of Confirmation Windows, see: Dispatch Automation on the Settings page


My app settings keep changing back to DATA when I switch it to SMS

If you want to change your Messaging configuration from DATA to SMS, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings screen in your app
  2. Click on the Messaging option
  3. Select SMS from the pop-up
  4. Close the app without switching to any other screens in the app

The Beacon mobile app requires data for all screens, so if you change your settings to SMS and then go to another screen in the app, Beacon will change you back to DATA so you can see the other screens. To avoid this, close the app immediately after you switch from DATA to SMS.

Or, more easily, close the app and send a text message with 789 to the Beacon gateway number (see #2 in the diagram here).

I’m having trouble logging in to the Beacon website

There are several scenarios which may be preventing you from logging in

Scenario 1: I don't see the login page

This may be because your internet connection is too slow or because you are trying to access the Login page on an iPad or iPhone using the Safari app.

If you are using the Safari app for your iPad or iPhone, you may see this when you try to visit the Beacon login page:


Beacon Login Page on Safari iPad

The Beacon web pages have not yet been optimized for Safari or Internet Explorer so we’d kindly suggest downloading the Chrome or Firefox mobile apps for your iOS device . We know the Beacon web pages may sometimes work while using these web browsers, but it’s not a guarantee. Firefox and Chrome are much more reliable.

Scenario 2: I entered my credentials and clicked "Sign In" nothing happened

Similar to Scenario 1 above, it’s likely due to your Internet connection or the web browser you are using. Beacon has been optimized for Firefox and Google Chrome web and mobile apps — but not for Safari or Internet Explore. If you’re using an iPad or iPhone, or are using a laptop running Internet Explorer, we recommend you download Firefox or Chrome to access Beacon.

Scenario 3: I entered my credentials and clicked "Sign In" but only get a red warning

If you are sure you’re entering the correct login credentials, try erasing your browser’s cookies, cache, and history, then try logging in again.

It may also be causing problems if you are trying to access the Beacon web pages through Safari or Internet Explorer. Beacon has been optimized for Firefox and Chrome, but not yet for Safari or Internet Explorer, so we recommend you download Firefox or Chrome in order to get the best user experience for Beacon.

I tried to create a new incident through the website but it didn’t work

PROBLEM: After I filled out the info on the Create Incident page and clicked “Create”, nothing happened.”

Chances are you don’t have any Responders registered and/or available to receive alerts. If this is the problem, a warning notification should appear on the screen. To fix the problem, go to the dashboard and click on the Manage Responders button. If no Responders appear, add some. If Responders appear but are colored red, you will have to make them available (green) or log new Responders in.
Error says “Phone number is already in use by another Responder”

I’m trying to add new Responders and I get this error warning

Error says “Phone number is already in use by another Responder”

This happens because the Responder registered their phone through the app, before you could add them to your Data Center, and they are now in a generic data center called Registration.

The best way to avoid this from happening is to add your Responders to the website before they register their phones through the mobile app.

To resolve this please send us an email to [email protected] with the Responder’s Name and Phone Number, and the name of your Agency account

The mobile app and the website show different maps

We’re seeing different maps

It’s possible your Responders are seeing  a random map in their mobile app that’s different than your catchment area.

To make sure Responders are seeing the same map as Dispatchers are, they have to be in the same data center.

The best way to ensure this is to add your Responders to the website before they register their phones through the mobile app.

If Responders register their phones through the mobile app first, they are put in a generic Data Center, called “Registration”. The map they see in their app is coming from the Registration Data Center

To resolve this:

Please send us an email to [email protected] with the Responder’s Name and Phone Number, and the Data Center you want them registered in. Or, if you have lots of Responders with the same issue, we can also give you access to the Registration Data Center where you can find your Responders and transfer them to your own Data Center.

Why is my dashboard map all blue?

My dashboard map is all blue

If you have just created a new account it’s possible your map may appear all blue on both the dispatch dashboard and the mobile app.

Why is my dashboard map all blue?
Why is my dashboard map all blue?

This is likely because your map’s latitude / longitude are set to 0˚, 0˚, placing you in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean off the western coast of Africa. If this is the case, the map will continue to focus at these coordinates until you change them.

To resolve this issue:

  1. Open the Main Menu
  2. Click on Settings
  3. Click on Catchment Area Map
  4. Point and click to place the Map Marker where you want your map to focus
  5. Click Save
Can I use the Beacon app if my phone has two SIM cards?

No, your mobile phone can’t have two SIM cards in it. Pick one SIM number to register your phone and remove the other when using Beacon.

How do I switch my settings from DATA to SMS without internet?

To switch your Beacon account from DATA messages to SMS messages when you don’t have internet to connect to the app, send an SMS with 789 to your Beacon number (ask your admin if you don’t have it saved in your contacts). This will change your phone’s settings from DATA to SMS within Beacon and then resend the last Beacon message to you.

Please watch this video to see how it works in practice.

You can also read more about all the SMS Codes here.

I want to register a new Responder, but it says they’re already registered

If you try to register a new responder and it says “This number is already registered”, please send us an email to [email protected] and include the phone number that is causing you problems and we will work it out.

How can I get an SMS gateway?

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. You can help us get you started with Beacon as soon as possible by helping us locate an SMS Gateway. If you are familiar with the major telecom companies in your country or if you have contacts at these companies, we recommend reaching out to them to ask about an SMS Gateway. Internet searches will also help find local companies that offer gateways for use with Beacon, and this is often how we at Trek Medics find these companies ourselves.

What questions should I ask when looking for an SMS gateway?

For Beacon, you will need either a dedicated shortcode or longcode. The shortcode is typically a 5 digit number, while longcodes are longer.

Many companies might want to give you a shared shortcode or longcode— this means that you share a number with their other clients. However, this typically won’t work with Beacon because sharing means that text messages will have to contain a special keyword to tell the company where text messages need to be sent. This will disrupt the normal workflow of Beacon.

Also, it’s important that the shortcode or longcode be two-way. This will allow Beacon to both send and receive text messages to and from responders.

Other relevant questions include:

  • Do you offer demo shortcodes/longcodes so we can make sure that it will work with Beacon?
  • If there is an application process, how long will it take to get a shortcode/longcode?
  • Will the shortcode/longcode work with all mobile phone carriers in this country?
  • Is there a limit on the number of text messages or characters per text message that we can send through the shortcode/longcode?
  • Can you provide info on pricing?
    • What are the setup costs?
    • What are the monthly/annual costs?
    • What are the costs per text message sent?
Don’t all of those SMS being sent back and forth get expensive?

Not necessarily, though we definitely recommend using the mobile app version where possible. In order to keep SMS 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.

What is an SMS gateway and why do we need one?
Why don’t callers or victims just text the emergency to the Beacon number instead of calling?

Technically, Beacon allows that. Be we don’t recommend sending requests for emergency via text message (what’s commonly referred to as “text-to-911”). Typing out messages and sending them back and forth with a dispatcher is far more time consuming than speaking directly with the dispatcher, 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)!

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
Are you looking for developers?

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

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 make sensitive data available to non-authorized parties or inaccessible to authorized parties.

Even when secure, the real 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.

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. To make this possible, we designed Beacon with certain principles to ensure the most flexible, yet robust solution on the market:

  • Beacon can be used via SMS or a mobile app or both, making it possible to use Beacon with or without internet connectivity
  • Beacon can be used as a standalone dispatching system (e.g., for a rural community with no existing communications system) or it can also be used to seamlessly integrate with existing dispatching setups (e.g., CADs) in order to expand their coverage beyond official vehicles only
  • Beacon can be set up and disassembled in a matter of minutes for temporary or short-term deployments, or it can be installed on remote and/or local servers for permanent operations
  • Beacon takes just a few minutes to learn for someone with only a basic understanding of how to read and reply to text messages
  • Beacon 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 Beacon up?


  1. Proven management
  2. Trained responders
  3. Adequate transportation
  4. A phone number that the public can call to request assistance (preferably toll-free, but not necessary)
  5. A reliable mobile phone signal*

*To use the mobile app version, you will also need reliable 3G/4G/Internet connectivity

What languages is Beacon available in?
  • English
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Haitian Creole
  • Swahili
  • German
  • Nepali
  • Arabic
  • Somali
  • Chichewa
What does it cost to run Beacon?

Beacon’s costs are based on a number of factors:

  • Message handling — are you managing the message server locally or using our remote providers>?
  • Call volume — How many incidents do you expect per month?
  • Responder volume — How many responders will be involved?
  • Technical support — How capable are you of managing the system on your own?
  • Customizations — How much custom work and configurations do you need?

All of these factors are bundled in a monthly or annual fee which includes use of all updates, enhancements and add-ons.

Can Beacon replace radios?

No – not yet, at least. Beacon can’t replace radios at the moment, but it can drastically reduce the amount of chatter that typically occurs between dispatchers and responders by eliminating the need for redundant communications about predictable steps — for example, “Are you responding?” “Are you there yet?” “Do you need more help?” “Are you transporting?” “Where to?” etc. This frees up radios to be reserved for communications outside the standard commands and reduces the risks of open-mics, drained batteries, and poor radio signals.

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.

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. It just happens that sometimes Beacon’s a better solution than other existing dispatching software for police. Emergency medical dispatching is different than police dispatching in the fact that persons with medical emergencies are often easily convinced to stay and wait for first responders; criminal suspects on the other hand may be more difficult to persuade. This means that police are better served by more dynamic communications than text messages, including 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 was not intended for police to use as their first-line dispatching solution.

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.

How is Beacon used?

There are two ways to understand how you can implement and use the Beacon Dispatch platform:


1. Emergency Response – The transport of sick and injured patients from the home or the street to the hospital

2. Inter-Facility Transfers –The transport of sick and injured patients from one healthcare facility to another (also referred to as “patient referrals”)

3. Patient Discharges — The transport of sick and injured patients from a healthcare facility to their home

4. Community Paramedicine — The delivery of care in patients’ homes




1. Prehospital Emergency Care – To support emergency medical services (EMS), fire departments, and other first responder agencies

2. Emergency Obstetrics – To support maternal child health programs improving access to emergency care and transport for pregnant women and newborns

3. Patient Referral Networks – To support the reliable transfer of patients between healthcare facilities providing appropriate levels of care

4. Disease Outbreak Surveillance – To support the reliable and regular collection of public health risks at the local level

5. Post-Crash Response – To support the reliable location, retrieval and transport of road users suffering injuries from motor vehicle collisions

6. Disaster Response – To enable the rapid deployment and management of responders and resources in austere environments

7. Persons with Disabilities – To improve access to inclusive services for patients with special needs

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.


If the Beacon FAQ hasn’t answered all your questions, send us an email here and we’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as we can.

If you’re looking for our Beacon user manuals, follow one of these links:

Send us an email to share how you think Beacon can help your service.

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