Aug 11 2023

How Can Bluetooth Beacons Improve Campus Safety?

From pedestrian alerts to crowd control, Bluetooth low-energy technology works in the background to enhance physical security.

Bluetooth refers to the technology in cellphones, earbuds, laptops and other smaller electronic devices that enables them to connect to networks. This same technology is used in Bluetooth beacons, which colleges and universities are starting to rely on to improve campus safety efforts.

Here’s how they keep people and property safe:

What Are Bluetooth Beacons?

Bluetooth beacons are small devices roughly the size of a AirPods case. These beacons contain electronic chips that emit Bluetooth radio waves.

They often are called Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) beacons, referring to their low-energy signals. Bluetooth is inherently low energy, especially compared with Wi-Fi, which is power hungry. If someone leaves the Wi-Fi enabled on a cellphone, the battery tends to drain faster than if only Bluetooth is turned on. In fact, some beacons can last up to eight years on battery life alone.

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How Do Bluetooth Beacons Work?

“Once deployed, Bluetooth beacons don’t make a two-way connection with any other device,” says Kapil Asher, senior director of enterprise Internet of Things solutions at “They pulsate information, then the receivers grab that information.”

Consider this comparison: Flipping the light on in your living room like turning on the Bluetooth on your phone. It remains on and is directly connected to another source (such as headphones) for the duration that it’s on. Beacons, meanwhile, are more like lighthouses: They send data in frequent bursts to any authorized device nearby that wants the information.

“Whether anyone’s listening or not, the beacons are pulsating information,” Asher says. “If your campus has an app that’s told to look for those signals, then users will get that information, because the beacon is always pulsating.”

For example, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have been using this technology to improve pedestrian safety on campus. The app, called StreetBit, uses BLE beacons to “provide road safety to distracted pedestrians,” according to a UAB press release.

When installed on pedestrians’ phones, the app sends “auditory and visual warnings” to pedestrians when they are approaching areas where beacons are installed. If a person is using a cellphone while approaching the intersections where the beacons are placed, notifications are sent as a reminder to pay attention.

Results from a study and a follow-up trial using the technology show that pedestrians were 64 percent less likely to become distracted during the alert phase and 52 percent less likely to do so later, even without the notifications.

64 percent

The percentage of pedestrians less likely to be distracted while their phones were equipped with BLE beacon-enabled StreetBit app

Source: Accident Analysis & Prevention, "Reducing distracted pedestrian behavior using Bluetooth beacon technology," Sept. 2021

How Can Bluetooth Beacons Enhance Campus Safety?

When students, faculty and staff are inside of buildings, cellphone service often is not great. While that might be ideal for a quiet classroom setting, it can be dangerous in an emergency.

Landlines frequently aren’t available in lecture rooms, hallways and classrooms. So, another option must be available to contact 911 or alert people to danger, whether it’s a natural disaster or active threat.

Bluetooth beacons provide this ability.

“If you’re under some sort of emergency or you need help immediately, you can dispatch the location of the person via the beacons,” says Asher.

The beacons operate with a cloud-based software to share information. The technology can show the environmental health of a space when paired with a Bluetooth-based Internet of the Things environmental monitor. Temperature, humidity, air quality and smoke detection are all available data, Asher says. If a fire starts in a lab, the beacon can talk to the monitor to send an alert that the air quality is degrading.

“You can use that data to improve the health status of the building,” he says. “The beacons send this information wirelessly, and the software on the other end is gathering that information. The business logic in the software can send an alert based on the range of scale provided for that environmental factor.”

That same pairing between an environmental monitoring sensor and cloud software can identify how many people are in the room, even if some people there don’t have their phones.

Another benefit of the beacons is the ability to send targeted messages. If a fire breaks out in one building on a satellite campus, for example, only the people on that campus will be notified to evacuate.

Beacons also can be used to cordon off access to certain areas of campus using Bluetooth-based wristbands. If a contract worker strays beyond the area he or she is working in, the band can send an alert via the Bluetooth beacon that the perimeter has been breached.

Kapil Asher headshot
If you’re under some sort of emergency or you need help immediately, you can dispatch the location of the person via the beacons.”

Kapil Asher Senior Director of Enterprise, Internet of Things solutions,

Considerations for Implementing Bluetooth Beacons on Campus

In order for the Bluetooth beacons to work effectively, institutions must install enough to cover their campuses, much like multiple wireless access points are needed to sufficiently cloak a campus in strong Wi-Fi.

“If you need location services using beacons, you need a bunch of them. It’s standard practice,” Asher says. “Though it’s a case-by-case basis depending on how much interference you have in an area, a good rule of thumb is that you need a Bluetooth beacon every 400 square feet.”

Colleges should partner with companies that don’t require wiring or external power for their beacons, Asher says. Installing power outlets where they don’t currently exist is an expensive — and unnecessary — endeavor when it comes to Bluetooth beacons.

“If an institution is on the lookout for a technology like Bluetooth beacons, they should make sure they don’t sign up for a lot of electrical work” such as cables, outlets or Ethernet drops, Asher says. Find a partner that offers wireless beacons that can survive on an extended battery life.

READ MORE: How using Power over Ethernet helps support connected devices.

It’s also wise to invest in technology that’s cloud-based and without data silos, Asher says. The cloud aspect means that there’s less involvement from the institution in the beginning; it’s set up by the partner company, depending on the use case that the institution wants. No servers or extra computers are needed for installation. Operating the beacons without data silos means that colleges have a wide, clear view of all aspects of campus safety and how those alerts and warnings interact.

“Colleges should make sure they don’t invest in tech that they cannot share data outside of their own ecosystem, because then they’ll get pigeonholed into just one use case,” Asher says. “IoT is effective only when data from multiple sensors can be consumed by relevant apps to solve specific problems. If each sensor uses a proprietary wireless communications protocol, campuses end up with several overlay networks and expensive software interfaces to share data between them.”

Technology of any type is an expensive but important investment, particularly when it relates to the safety of students, visitors, faculty and staff on campus. To make the most of BLE beacons from the start, ensure that the investment can be used for multiple purposes, now and in the future.

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