How to locate emergency callers with Bluetooth Beacons

By Get Connected Blog June 21, 2016

America’s FCC estimates 10,000 lives could be saved every year by improving location accuracy for emergency services. Although the communications industry is working on viable solutions, a Bluetooth-enabled solution is available today. So what’s the hold-up?

The popular HBO comedy news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently tackled this topic. While filled with laughs, the skit eventually addressed the very serious point that the current system is not fit for purpose. One example given was that despite giving the correct address, a newspaper deliverer who crashed into an Atlanta lake was not located by the dispatch team for 20 minutes. She died before the emergency response team could reach her.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case and even in cities, emergency services can struggle to pinpoint callers to a specific floor or even building. As the Bluetooth SIG recently wrote, BeaconOutlets, regular electrical wall sockets doubling as Bluetooth beacons, can already solve this problem.

How Bluetooth beacons work

BeaconOutlets look like traditional electrical wall sockets but they contain Bluetooth enabled technology that mobile phones can communicate with. This allows a mobile phone to obtain accurate location information without relying on GPS or Wi-Fi signals. Applications that work with BeaconOutlets can be push, whereby the BeaconOutlet informs a device it is within its range, or pull, where the BeaconOutlet listens for device signals and informs an app when one is detected.

Widespread adoption of this technology is required to make this dream a reality, but how do we get to this point, and who pays? Commercial building owners, private homeowners, Government, or the private sector? Governments could adopt BeaconOutlets in all public buildings and government offices, but in order to create a more widespread system, other business models will need to be developed.

Perhaps there is a solution whereby private sector electricians are given a discount or incentive for choosing a BeaconOutlet over a traditional model. There is also potential to develop apps that monitor electricity usage against the number of people in a room, and offer related efficiency services. This could be especially relevant in offices where lights and computer monitors continue to consume power overnight. A further option is for private sector firms developing apps that utilize BeaconOutlets subsidize the cost of the hardware, in the hope of faster take-up of their software.

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