Stroll around any college campus at night and you’re sure to see at least one or more bright blue lights alongside walking paths. These have built-in phones so students who are in danger can run to them and call campus security for help. Schools pay millions of dollars to get them installed. And parents of students like them because they make them feel their kids will be secure.
Except the only students who use them are drunk and calling for pizza.
Now, a free app called LiveSafe wants to be the blue light in every student’s pocket. It launched on iOS and Android this past fall, giving students a free way to anonymously contact campus police about situations that didn’t necessarily qualify as 911 emergencies. In fact, a lot of the notifications are more prevention-based than anything else: A student sees a man walk into a store with a gun, witnesses a hit-and-run, hears another student talking about suicide or witnesses cyber bullying.
At the Code Conference, LiveSafe introduced a new feature of its app called SafeWalk, which lets a person get someone they know to walk him or her home, virtually. If the walker and the other person are each using the app, SafeWalk sends the walker’s location data to the other person.
The point here is that an in-app map shows when the walker makes it home safely. No one has to remember to text when they get wherever they’re going, nor do they have to stay on a phone call the whole way home. The walker’s iPhone or Android phone can be locked and put away in a backpack.
Considering how attackers have been known to target people on phones who aren’t paying attention, the SafeWalk concept makes a lot of sense.
LiveSafe currently works on campuses in 11 states, with more coming next fall. Though the app started with a focus on colleges, it’s expanding to be used in malls (think of shooting incidents) and military bases (think of sexual assaults that people witness but worry about reporting without anonymity).
The company was co-founded by a mugging victim and a victim of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Both wanted to create a way for students to alert authorities — anonymously if they choose — about issues that they knew about, but felt helpless about acting on.
Jenny Abramson, LiveSafe’s president and CEO, cited statistics from a study done by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education. It found that in 81 percent of school shootings, at least one person had information that the attacker was thinking about or planning the school attack.
LiveSafe has one screen dedicated to anonymous tips, each represented by illustrations that can be quickly tapped and submitted. The app also has a built-in shortcut for calling 911 or campus police.
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