Personal Safety Apps: The Next Generation of Blue Light Phones

With some campuses removing their emergency call boxes, apps on smart phones offer a viable alternative for students (and their parents) who are concerned about safety.

From the blue light phones installed in the 1970s to today’s mobile phone apps, communications technology has come a long way in improving campus safety and security.

Colleges and universities realize that students are rarely without their cell phones, most of which are smartphones and receive text messages, E-mail or other notifications. Because students are so cell-phone dependent, many universities and colleges use cell phone calling/text message systems for emergency notification. The increase in cell phone use over the past decades has even caused some schools, such as the University of California, Davis, to remove their blue light systems.

With parents of college students becoming more tech savvy and educated in the areas of personal safety, most are asking campus law enforcement for additional details about specific safety protocols and want more assurance. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

Apps Act as Mobile Emergency Call Boxes
Some universities and colleges are turning to services and applications that bring the blue light concept to a cell phone. For example, the University of Colorado-Denver uses the MyForce personal security application. The app is available via a smartphone and provides live, 24/7 assistance whenever a user activates the one-touch alert. The solution provides improved response time and assistance to students and staff in the case of an emergency.

Alerts sent via the app are received and processed by a live security monitoring team that tracks and processes the emergency signals and notifies the proper authorities with a user’s profile and GPS location. All alerts sent within the campus boundaries are sent directly to campus security, enabling them to respond to situations with increased speed and precision. MyForce’s security monitoring team can relay any updates from the streaming audio of the application to campus authorities as well as emergency response teams.  

Not only does the service provide a huge selling point to campuses and sense of security to students and staff, it also enables campus security to respond to safety issues that occur on campus faster and with greater accuracy.

“What we evaluated and appreciated was the secondary help aspect MyForce offers,” University of Colorado-Denver Chief of Police Doug Abraham says. “It’s is not just for the users’ peace of mind, but participants can call for help if they witness something and when someone else needs help. Perhaps the biggest benefit to students is they’re not only safe when they’re on campus, but when they are off campus too.”

Solutions Offer More Tools for Public Safety Departments
Not only do these personal safety services and applications help a campus safety team respond to calls quicker, they also provide additional resources to combat safety issues on any campus.  

Unlike a stationary blue light system, a personal safety application on a smartphone typically stays on the user’s person, which allows for additional safety features. For example, with some products, the service opens up live communication with the personal security team that is able to track the subscriber’s GPS location and any developments via the streaming audio and report the updates to campus safety. This feature is ideal in the case of abductions or if a user has to flee from an attacker.

An additional benefit of these online personal safety applications is that users are able to upload content to an online profile that the safety teams and officials can access in case of an emergency. Users upload a current photo, physical description, driver’s license number, and any personal safety history or medical aliments — all of which could be essential in an emergency. These personal details would be relayed to campus safety as soon as a valid alert is placed. With some solutions, users also include emergency contacts who are only notified in the case of an ongoing situation (user is attacked, hospitalized, abducted, etc.) or the user cannot be contacted or located.

Many of the applications increase the speed at which emergency response teams are able to help. For example, when the application is armed, it keeps a smartphone screen from timing out so an alert can be sent with one touch versus five key strokes to dial emergency services.

All of these qualities improve campus safety’s ability to respond to students, staff and campus visitors in distress. All colleges and universities wants to ensure students and their families that the institution is doing everything to make their campus as safe as possible. Cell phone applications and services are the next step. 

Steve Foster is president of Business Controls. He is also a security consultant and technology entrepreneur, and formerly worked in law enforcement.

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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