Beacon 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 is Beacon used?

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

HORIZONTAL IMPLEMENTATION:

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

 

 

VERTICAL IMPLEMENTATION

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

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. 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 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.

What does it cost to run Beacon?

Depending on the size of your service, we may not charge for Beacon.

If we do, there are two pricing plans:

Remote access – Beacon is run on Trek Medics’ servers and charged as a monthly bundle rate depending on call volume, number of responders and technical support needed; includes use of 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, and 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 languages is Beacon available in?
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Nepali
  • Haitian Creole
What do you need to set Beacon up?

REQUIRED RESOURCES

  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 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
Are you looking for developers?

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

¿Qué hace que Beacon sea diferente de otras tecnologías de despacho móvil?

Beacon ha sido diseñado específicamente para el despacho de emergencia en entornos de recursos limitados, y con la flexibilidad para enfrentar esos desafíos, sin embargo, pueden presentarse. Para que esto sea posible, diseñamos Beacon con ciertos principios para garantizar la solución más flexible pero robusta en el mercado:

  • Beacon se puede utilizar a través de SMS o una aplicación móvil o ambos, lo que permite utilizar Beacon con o sin conectividad a Internet.
  • Beacon se puede utilizar como un sistema de despacho independiente (p. ej. para una comunidad rural sin sistema de comunicaciones existente) o también se puede usarse para integrarse sin problemas con configuraciones de despacho existentes (p. ej. CAD) para expandir su cobertura más allá de vehículos oficiales
  • Beacon se puede montar y desmontar en cuestión de minutos para implementaciones temporales o de corto plazo, o se puede instalar en servidores remotos y / o locales para operaciones permanentes.
  • Beacon solo tarda unos minutos para aprenderse en alguien con solo una comprensión básica de cómo leer y responder mensajes de texto
  • Beacon puede acomodar fácilmente pequeños grupos de respuesta, mientras que puede escalar a servicios de emergencia a nivel nacional con poca reconfiguración adicional necesaria
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.

¿No hay ya un montón de aplicaciones de mensajería como WhatsApp o Facebook messenger que puede hacer lo que hace Beacon?

Además de las limitaciones anteriores que vienen con los mensajes de texto, este tipo de aplicaciones tienen problemas adicionales cuando se trata de despacho de emergencia.

 

Para uno, el uso de aplicaciones de terceros, por ejemplo, WhatsApp o Facebook, pueden poner datos confidenciales a disposición de partes no autorizadas o inaccesibles para las partes autorizadas.

 

Incluso cuando es seguro, el verdadero problema es la escalabilidad: una lista de Twitter o un grupo de chat de WhatsApp pueden alertar a múltiples respondientes ante una sola emergencia, pero enviar los respondientes a múltiples incidentes en diferentes ubicaciones al mismo tiempo es mucho más difícil con estas aplicaciones. El algoritmo de asignación dinámica de Beacon sabe cómo administrar de manera eficiente los primeros respondientes para llevarlos a donde deben estar.

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 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)!

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.

sms-gateway
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?

STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?

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

Beacon Emergency Dispatch Platform

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