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.

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