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Fear the app: UMd. pilots technology to increase campus safety

Thursday - 9/15/2011, 4:00pm  ET

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - A local police department is about to roll out safety technology not seen anywhere else in the world.

It's a free app called M-Urgency. Download the app, press a button on your phone, and it's like you're broadcasting directly to police.

"Immediately our 911 center will receive audio and video from your phone, as well as the exact GPS location of where you are," says David Mitchell, chief of police at the University of Maryland in College Park. "We'll be able to hear and see everything."

"Our dispatcher can then transfer those images and that video/audio to police cars and emergency services personnel who are responding," he adds.

The app for Android phones is now being tested by about 100 students, and will soon be made available to all students at the university. There are plans to create an iPhone version, too.

"It gives us the opportunity to create a greater sense of safety, and engage in what we think is the 911 of the future," says Mitchell.

Mitchell says the app also can be used as a remote way to escort students back to their dorms.

"For example, if we have students who are studying late or whatever the case may be at one of our facilities ... and they want to get back to their dorm room and it's dark out and they're a little concerned about their safety, they'll be able to use this application," he says.

"We'll be able to monitor their whereabouts, see everything they're seeing, hear everything they're hearing while they're going about their way back to their dorm room."

Mitchell says there has not been any opposition to the app.

"This is not Big Brother ... engaging in some kind of oversight of your activities," he says. "You need to download the app. It's free of charge to all our students here."

For the immediate future, only those with a university ID will be able to download the app, but eventually other residents of College Park may be able to use it. Talks are ongoing to possibly share it with the city.

"They're in a holding pattern at this time. They want to see how the app works. So, we hope that as time goes on they'll be interested," says Mitchell.

The app was developed by University of Maryland computer science professor Dr. Ashok Agrawala and a team of students.

For updates on the app's rollout, and the site where students can download it once available, click here.

Follow Michelle Basch and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)