Trek Medics delivers SMS emergency response in areas without 911

Planet with user symbol


people with access in Dominican Republic and Tanzania

Healthcare hards


emergency responses in 2016

People in the U.S. and Western Europe take emergency response networks for granted, but most developing countries have nothing like 911. No ambulances or emergency helicopters race to the scene of an accident, and no EMTs provide life-saving care.

Jason Friesen set out to change that with Trek Medics, an international nonprofit that uses mobile phone technologies to improve emergency medical systems in communities without reliable access to emergency care.

It’s a big hurdle. Most developed countries rely on expensive old-school hardware that’s tailored to Western infrastructure. Jason needed a flexible platform that could adapt to his nontraditional communication needs. “If it couldn’t be run on just a laptop and/or smartphone, we didn’t want it,” he says.

Trek Medics
Trek Medics

Searching for flexibility and accessibility

In searching for a communications vendor, Jason encountered the same problem over and over, a cultural issue as much as a technological one. Traditional Western vendors rely on a preexisting communications infrastructure to receive calls and dispatch emergency personnel. The vendors Jason was talking with recommended building conventional legacy communications systems, including shipping, installing, managing, and updating on-premises call center hardware. These prerequisites were out of the question for Trek Medics, which didn’t have the resources to build an infrastructure from scratch in each of its target regions.

After a long search, Jason chose Twilio’s communications platform to provide the backbone for his communications system. Rather than requiring the hardware, phone closets, and inflexible software that other vendors needed, the Twilio platform gave Trek Medics access to a global, cloud-based communications network that was accessible anywhere. With infrastructure no longer a concern, Trek Medics could focus on building projects in low-resource regions rather than worrying about technology.

A critical step in this mission was finding the most reliable and ubiquitous method of communication. SMS was the clear choice in most communities. Trek Medics leveraged the Twilio SMS API to create BEACON, an open-source, text-message-based emergency medical dispatching platform developed specifically for communities where consistent ambulance response is not available.

“One of our guiding values is accessibility, and the Achilles’ heel of emergency communications is interoperability, so we’ve committed to a lowest-common-denominator approach. SMS is the current lingua franca of mobile communications,” Jason says.

By relaying text messages from the scene of an emergency to trained responders throughout the community, BEACON enables the nearest available emergency care providers to quickly locate, treat, and transport emergency victims to local hospitals.

“Using Twilio, Trek Medics can focus on fixing emergency services instead of the communications hurdles that held those services back.”

Jason Friesen Founder

Delivering emergency support at scale

Trek Medics is in the process of rolling out technologies to help in the Dominican Republic and Tanzania, along with staffing and equipping the two programs. Thus far, Trek Medics has provided approximately 200,000 residents with access to rapid care and expedited transport. More than 150 community members have been trained on the technology, with an active core of 50 first responders. In total, Trek Medics used BEACON to respond to 450 emergencies in 2016.

Benjamin Gilmour, Trek Medics’ director of Field Programs, is quite literally “doing some real modern-day Johnny Appleseed-type stuff,” Jason says. That’s the scrappy, determined mentality that Trek Medics is founded upon. Using Twilio, Trek Medics can focus on fixing emergency services instead of the communications hurdles that held those services back.

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