Nonprofit seeks to improve emergency response via SMS
Trek Medics International seeks to improve emergency response times in rural areas, such as Native American communities, with the Beacon platform, a text message-based emergency dispatching software designed for communities with limited access to emergency care and transport. COURTESY
WASHINGTON – After seeing a need in isolated communities for quicker response times in emergency situations, former paramedic Jason Friesen created a platform called Beacon to help improve wait times. The text message-based software can be used with existing emergency medical systems at no consumer cost.
The owner and founder of Trek Medics International, Friesen saw the need for such technology while working in developing countries in 2010, where internet and smartphone technology is scarce.
“So we come up with a platform called Beacon, and Beacon is a very simple text message-based emergency dispatching software, “he said. “If you don’t have internet, we do everything by SMS (short message service). When we started we were working in a lot of these developing countries where they didn’t have smart phones and they didn’t have internet connections, but they had the little feature phones. We just send regular SMS text messages, which don’t require internet or a smartphone.”
Thanks to Twilio, a Cloud communications platform and service company, Trek Medics uses Beacon to send texts in emergency situations. In December, Twilio announced a $3.5 million grant to be divided among 26 nonprofits, with Trek Medics being a recipient.
“We’re pretty much in almost everybody’s life in a sense that if you get a text or a call from an airline that says your flight is delayed or that your gate has been changed. That comes from us,” Cris Paden, a Cherokee Nation citizen and Twilio’s corporate communications director, said. “We automatically enable the software that companies need to do that. We charge them on a per text basis or on a per phone call basis. We’ve been around since about 2011. It’s kind of expanded now so that if your prescription is ready from a pharmacy and they text you or call, then that comes from us.”
Paden said Twilio offers technology to help enable their communications systems.
“That’s what we do for Trek Medics,” he said. “With their applications such as Beacon, we help enable not only them but a ton of other nonprofits that are out there to be able to reach people that are in a crisis or those in need.”
Friesen said their programs were launched in the Dominican Republic. “The mission of Trek Medics is to improve access to emergency care and transport for limited or isolated populations. What that originally meant was we began working in developing countries. Most people don’t realize this, but when you leave the United States and, with the exception of the 25 richest nations in the world, most countries don’t have a way to call for help when it’s needed like 911 and have trained responders at their side in a matter of minutes.”
Friesen said the way Beacon works, for example, if there is a car accident and a call is made to 911 or a local fire station, a simple text can be sent to area emergency responders. Whoever answers that could be of the quickest assistance will respond to the text. So that all responders are not showing, another text is sent stating that help is on the way and to be on stand-by.
“We created this software platform basically to help build 911 systems in countries that don’t have them. But based on my experiences as a medic in the United States, we began to see a lot of new opportunities right here at home,” Friesen said.
He said though rural areas have 911 systems in place, it still might take an ambulance an hour to arrive. Beacon can also be utilized to alert area emergency responders to assist quicker rather than waiting.
He said the opioid epidemic was what really pushed Trek Medics to raise awareness of Beacon in rural communities, namely Native American communities.
“One of the big problems that we’ve seen in tribal communities and more generally in rural communities is that the legacy 911 technology that is available is really expensive,” Friesen said. “We think there’s a real great opportunity to just provide our software to them so that they can do exactly what the very high volume 911 systems are doing by using the phones in their pockets. We built this so that you could effectively respond to emergencies with whatever technologies you already have.”
There is no charge for emergency medical systems to use the software, and Trek Medics is offering grants to aid in the opioid epidemic.
“If there are any tribal communities that are struggling with the opioid epidemic in particular, we’re actually offering money to support their programs by implementing this software,” Friesen said. “We have a grant program where any agency that’s in charge or responsible or involved with opioid overdose response, we are offering them grants of up to $50,000 to implement this software and set up a community-based overdose response network.”
For information visit trekmedics.org
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