WASHINGTON — Walking alone on a college campus can be dangerous, but at times it’s unavoidable.
A new personal safety app that provides a one-touch link with campus police, including streamed audio, video, and GPS location services, is being used on two university campuses in the nation’s capital.
EmergenSee is in use on the campuses of Georgetown University and Gallaudet University, says Phil Reitnour, founder and chairman of the smartphone-based security system.
“Say a female student is walking from the library to her dorm. If she feels threatened, she simply taps the app,” says Reitnour. “It starts recording audio, video, GPS, and streams it live in real time, even if the phone is destroyed, and sends it right to Georgetown’s Public Safety.”
When the user activates the app, a single touch immediately sounds a visual and audio alarm on a dedicated Mac, says Georgetown University Chief of Police Jay Gruber, in a video message to the school community.
In addition to alerting campus security, the audio, video and GPS information can be sent to preselected contacts.
As soon as the alert is sent, the user can silently text back and forth with university police.
In cases where a nervous or threatened user wants to be discreet, Reitnour says the app can be used secretly.
“You can use the camera facing out, or the camera facing in, or if you tap ‘stealth mode’ the screen would go black, but there would be a red dot on the screen for the person who owns the phone, who knows that they’re recording,” says Reitnour.
In older phones that are unable to stream video, photos are automatically snapped ever few seconds and sent in real time to the user’s emergency contacts.
A spokesperson at Gallaudet University confirms the school utilizes the EmergenSee system.
Sense of comfort
The app is free for students at universities that subscribe to EmergenSee.
Reitnour says the cost to schools depends on the size of the university, but estimates the average cost at $25,000 per year.
Money well spent, says Georgetown’s police chief.
“I hope that every single member of the Georgetown University community, students, faculty and staff, downloads this app,” says Gruber. “I hope they’re not afraid to use it, and I hope they find some comfort in knowing that in their pocket they can have an app that can reach out and touch our police department.”
Reitnour says providing the streaming information to campus police instead of a city’s police department generally enable a more prompt reaction.
“They can generally respond a lot quicker than anybody else,” says Reitnour.
In addition to campus, the service can be used in pre-determined neighborhoods where students live or frequent.
“Emergensee’s geo-fence technology keeps all users safer within a designated perimeter that includes the surrounding neighborhoods of Burleith, Foxhall and West Georgetown,” according to the university.
As the user moves, the phone’s GPS tracks movements.
“It’ll show the directional arrows on the officer’s screen, where you’re going, what direction, and the speed,” says Reitnour.
Other universities have similar mobile safety apps, including TapShield.